An overview of the Ballast Water Management Convention
Vessels carry ballast water to maintain their stability, draft, and manoeuvrability. Usually, ballast water is taken on during cargo unloading and discharged during cargo loading. Over the last few decades the rapid increase of trade and traffic volumes has resulted in billions of tonnes of ballast water transferred globally each year. It is estimated that more than 7,000 different species are carried around the world in ships’ ballast tanks each day. While most of those species will not survive the voyage or the new environment, those that do survive may cause serious ecological, economic and public health issues to coastal regions.
Recognising the scale of the problem and aiming to address the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), in 1997, adopted voluntary guidelines which recommended that vessels exchange their ballast water taken on in the last port with mid-ocean water, which contains less marine organisms. Mid-ocean organisms are also less likely to survive in the next discharge port due to changes in the water’s temperature and salinity, and therefore, this measure significantly reduces the risk of the transfer of invasive marine species. Unfortunately, this method has limitations and is only partly effective, thus in February 2004 the IMO, aiming to ultimately eliminate the risks of the introduction of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens, adopted the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, 2004 (the “Convention”).
The Convention, which will replace the voluntary ballast water exchange, consists of 22 Articles, which provide definitions and underline the general obligations to flag Administrations and port States Authorities, 24 regulations divided in five Sections, which set out more detailed technical requirements with regard to the management and control requirements for ships, special requirements in certain areas, standards for the management of ballast water and survey and certification requirements and finally two appendices, which are the last parts of the Convention and contain the sample form of the International Ballast Water Certificate and Ballast Water Record Book. Additionally, in order to support the uniform implementation of the Convention, the IMO has developed and adopted a set of Technical Guidelines. The Guidelines deal with issues surrounding ballast water sampling, equivalent compliance, development of plans, approval of systems, risk assessment for exemptions, design and construction standards, emergency situations, port state control etc.
Currently, more than ten years after its adoption, 43 States have ratified the Convention but representing only 32.54% of the world tonnage.
The Ballast Water Management Convention will enter into force 12 months after it has been signed by 30 States, representing 35% of world merchant shipping tonnage. Currently, more than ten years after its adoption, 43 States have ratified the Convention but representing only 32.54% of the world tonnage. It will apply to all vessels flagged to parties of the Convention and to vessels of non-parties that transit or operate in the waters of a Party of the Convention. After the Convention comes into the force shipowners will be required to install type approved ballast water treatment systems that will treat ballast water before discharge to meet the Convention’s standards over a five-year period.
IMO Ballast Water Convention Compliance Schedule
|Ballast water capacity (m3)||Keel laid year||Required to comply with Regulation D-2|
|<1,500 or >5,000||≤2012||By first IOPP Renewal survey after the date of entry into force of the Convention. If the Convention enters into force during 2016, compliance is required by the first IOPP Renewal Survey following the Anniversary Date of Ship Delivery|
|1,500-5,000||>entry into force of the Convention||By the first IOPP Renewal Survey after the date of entry into force of the Convention|
|All ships||≤entry into force of the Convention||By the completion date of ship construction|
By the end of 2014, fifty-one different ballast water treatment systems have been granted Type Approval Certification by their respective Administrations according to the Guidelines for approval of ballast water management system (G8). Most systems use a two-stage approach, first a mechanical treatment, such as filtration and separation, followed by physical treatment, such as sterilisation by ozone, electric currents, ultraviolet light, and ultrasound or chemical treatment (biocides, chlorination and chlorine dioxide) or a combination of the above.
The Convention allows for use of other methods to treat the ballast water provided that they offer the same level of protection and are approved by the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) Committee of the IMO. It also allows national authorities to grant exceptions and exemptions based on risk assessment. So, ships whose ballast water is considered to pose low risk to the marine environment may be excluded from being obliged to fit ballast water management systems to meet the ballast water performance standards of the Convention. Therefore, exemptions are more likely to be granted for ships engaged in short sea trades and notably for those operating between two ports on a standard route. Exemptions and exceptions are very important for short sea shipping. Short sea ships represent a low risk of secondary transfer of invasive species due to the limited volume of ballast water they discharge and limited difference in the biogeographic area in which they trade. In addition, the sector faces serious practical issues due to restricted space to install treatment systems. Serious concerns have been expressed by short sea shipping on the lack of a pragmatic and harmonized approach on granting of exception requirements and exemption procedures by individual flag and port State Administrations. If this issue is not given the proper attention, it may affect many operators, and particularly those trading in Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs) who will already be struggling with higher fuel costs in 2015.
As a result of the delay of the ratification of the Ballast Water Management Convention, additional challenges have been introduced to the industry, with individual countries taking the lead and placing regional requirements on ballast water. In June 2012, a revised US Coast Guard regulation on ballast water management entered into force. The legislation, which applies to all ships constructed on or after 1 December 2013 and to existing ships by their first dry-docking after 2014 or 2016, depending on the ballast water tanks capacity, introduces more stringent requirements. According to the US Ballast Water Management Requirements vessels calling at US ports and intending to discharge ballast water, shall fit USCG type approved treatment systems which meet the US treatment standards. However, as no Coast Guard type approved system is yet available, ships fitted with an IMO type approval system, which has been accepted by USCG as an USCG Alternative Management System (AMS), can be allowed to call at US ports for up to five years. After this interim five-year period, the AMS model must be granted a USCG type approval in order to be accepted for future use. While US discharge standards are the same as the IMO Convention, the major difference is that the USCG uses a live/dead instead of viable/unviable definition, which determines whether the organisms are capable of reproduction.
It is believed the non-ratification by States of the Convention is connected to the complexity and uncertainties surrounding the Guidelines for port State Control inspection for compliance with BWM Convention and the robustness of the Guidelines used for testing of the ballast water management systems (G8). However, the progress made by the IMO at the 67th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (Oct 14) on the above issues, and in particular the agreement to revise the G8 Guidelines in order to ensure that the technologies developed meet the Convention’s standards, will contribute to achieving the required 2.46% shortfall of the tonnage threshold for the ratification of the Ballast Water Management Convention before the end of 2015.
The Convention has introduced unique challenges to the industry and it is believed that more are yet to come. The lack of rational guidelines, the high level of uncertainty surrounding the interpretation and enforcement of the Convention, and the current depressed freight market are catalysts that may substantially impact the structure and the way the industry operates. It is yet to be seen whether shipping companies will be able to adapt effectively to this new stringent regulatory environment without negatively impacting their viability and profitability.