BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Most ships arriving in the Great Lakes are exempt from regulations meant to keep out invasive species capable of wreaking havoc on the ecosystem, the U.S. Coast Guard has acknowledged as it moves to tighten controls.

As many as 80 percent or more of oceangoing vessels that enter the lakes are subject to little more than paperwork requirements.

But those vessels — known as NOBOBs, short for no ballast on board — are not necessarily without stowaways.

The NOBOBs may carry tons of residual ballast water and/or sediments that can mix with new ballast water once on the Great Lakes and be discharged, according to a Coast Guard notice in the Federal Register earlier this month.

The Coast Guard is soliciting suggestions for a new ballast water management strategy and has scheduled a public meeting for May in Cleveland.

“The Coast Guard’s program has a loophole big enough to drive a cargo ship through,” responded Jennifer Nalbone of the environmental group Great Lakes United, which on Tuesday called for an immediate crackdown on NOBOBs.

While praising the Coast Guard’s intention to address the problem, Nalbone said the agency is obligated by law to move more quickly.

“The Coast Guard has the very clear statutory authority to regulate all ships entering the Great Lakes,” Nalbone said. “These NOBOB vessels are coming in unregulated. They don’t have to do anything.”

Nalbone urged the Coast Guard to require the vessels to seal their tanks or be made to retain all ballast content, measures the Coast Guard said would be unlikely in the near future.

“We have to engage in full public participation before we do anything,” said Beivan Patnaik, regulatory coordinator for the Coast Guard’s Aquatic Nuisance Species program.

Patnaik said NOBOBs are required to file reports on their residual ballast water as they enter the Great Lakes, but face no regulations on how to manage the water.

“The Coast Guard recognizes that that’s an important issue to the Great Lakes, and we’re committed to addressing this issue,” he said.

Coastal waters worldwide are increasingly becoming infested with foreign species that proliferate because they lack predators that kept them in check at home. Often the newcomers are discharged in the ballast water used to balance large oceangoing ships.

Utilities on the Great Lakes spend millions of dollars each year to keep their water intake valves clear of zebra mussels, among the first invaders and the impetus for the existing ballast water regulations sought by Congress.

 

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