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Inspecting ships for substantial risks

Ships following the accepted industry standards are more likely to operate safely without spilling oil or causing other harm to our environment or the public. Ships that don’t meet industry standards pose a higher risk of harm to public safety and the environment.

We conduct inspections to determine if ships operating in state waters pose a substantial risk of harm to the environment or the public. We developed safety standards based on international and federal requirements and accepted industry standards that help identify risky vessels. Ships that operate below these standards likely pose a higher risk of spilling oil or causing other harm to Washington's waters.

If we find a ship poses a substantial risk, we will work with the ship’s operating company to reduce the risk, refer the vessel to the U.S. Coast Guard, or, if the risk is high, will mobilize response resources.

Types of vessels we inspect

We routinely inspect cargo ships and fishing vessels that are 300 gross tons or more, and passenger vessels that are 300 gross tons or more and can carry at least 6,000 gallons of fuel. We don’t inspect tank vessels. And, we don't inspect vessels less than 300 gross tons. However, we may inspect any vessel that spills oil into state waters to determine the cause of the spill and how much was spilled.

Inspecting ships for substantial risk

If vessels have oil spill contingency plans for Washington, we screen them for risk when we are notified they are coming to state waters. We assign a risk score based on their age, history, and past incidents, and spills. This risk score combined with other factors, like whether we’ve inspected them before, helps determine whether an inspection will be done. Sometimes our inspectors will visit a ship that has not visited Washington's waters before just to provide information to the ship’s captain about our inspections.

Vessel inspection standards

We believe that ships following the accepted industry standards will operate safely in state waters without spilling oil or causing other harm to the environment or the public. Ships that don’t meet industry standards pose a higher risk of harm to public safety and the environment. Cargo and passenger vessels have different standards than fishing vessels.

To help vessel operators, we've developed inspection checklists based on the accepted industry standards into inspection checklists, which also:

  • Protects the state's resources.
  • Provides for safe marine transportation in state waters.
  • Determines whether ships operating in state waters pose a substantial risk of harm to the public health or safety or to the environment.

What to expect when your ship is inspected by professional mariners

During a substantial risk inspection, we check the vessel’s operating procedures and management practices against accepted industry standards.

These checklists can help vessel operators prepare for inspection: