EPA settles with shipping container company over Clean Water Act violations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has settled with CMA CGM, the world’s third largest shipping container company, over claims of violations of EPA’s Vessel General Permit issued under the Clean Water Act. Under the terms of the settlements, CMA CGM will pay $165,000 in penalties for claims of violations by four of the company’s ships involving ballast water discharge, recordkeeping, inspection, monitoring, and reporting.

“The Vessel General Permit is a key element of the Clean Water Act. When companies and their ships don’t comply with this permit, the quality of our nation’s already-challenged waters can be seriously impacted,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “It’s incumbent upon vessel owners and operators to properly manage what they discharge into our oceans, and to meet their monitoring and reporting requirements.”

CMA CGM is a privately-owned company headquartered in Marseille, France. The company failed to:

  • Treat ballast water prior to discharging it in a manner consistent with the compliance deadline at U.S. ports, including the Port of Los Angeles in California.
  • Record the findings of annual comprehensive inspections.
  • Conduct an annual calibration of a ballast water treatment system.
  • Monitor and sample discharges from ballast water treatment systems.
  • Report complete and accurate information in annual reports.

The settlement includes penalties for the following vessels of $48,277 for the CMA CGM A. Lincoln, $48,233 for the CMA CGM T. Jefferson, $52,197 for the CMA CGM Fidelio, and $16,293 for the APL Columbus.

Vessel self-inspections are required as a means of identifying, for example, potential sources of spills, broken pollution prevention equipment, or other issues that might lead to permit violations. Self-inspections empower the owner or operator to diagnose and fix problems in a timely manner to remain compliant with the permit and with U.S. law. Because the Clean Water Act relies on self-reporting of permittees, violations tied to failures or delays in inspection, monitoring, and reporting are serious and undermine the permit program.

In addition, it is important that such discharges by ships be monitored to ensure that aquatic ecosystems are protected from discharges that contain pollutants. Invasive species are a persistent problem in U.S. coastal and inland waters. Improper management of ballast water can introduce invasive species or damage local species by disrupting habitats and increasing competitive pressure. Discharges of other waste streams regulated by the Vessel General Permit (e.g., graywater, exhaust gas scrubber water, lubricants, etc.) can cause toxic impacts to local species or contain pathogenic organisms.

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