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IMO ballast water pact ratified, but US adhering to stricter standard

Nov 30, 2016 04:31 PM
Optimarin is among companies seeking Coast Guard type approval for a ballast water system.

Courtesy Optimarin

Optimarin is among companies seeking Coast Guard type approval for a ballast water system.

Despite the ratification of the International Maritime Organization’s Ballast Water Management Convention, operators of vessels in U.S. waters still face uncertainty due to a more stringent regime for approval of treatment equipment.

Adoption by Finland in early September triggered ratification of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments. Under the terms of the pact, which will enter into force on Sept. 8, 2017, ships will be required to “remove, render harmless, or avoid the uptake or discharge of aquatic organisms and pathogens” with ballast water sediments.

The United States is not a party to the IMO convention, however. All ships that discharge ballast water in U.S. waters are required to use a treatment system approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, which has a stricter standard than that being adopted by the IMO.

As of mid-October, the Coast Guard had not approved a compliant system. Vessels have been granted an extension for fitting an approved system or have been permitted to install an alternate management system (AMS), essentially a system type-approved under IMO guidelines. The AMS exception will only be allowed for five years, when a Coast Guard-approved system must be installed. The AMS system may or may not receive Coast Guard approval, which means shipowners could be faced with replacing a system that cost between $1 million and $5 million per vessel.

The International Chamber of Shipping said it will be working with IMO member states to convince the U.S. to seek a pragmatic solution. Otherwise, when the BWM Convention goes into force next year, “the shipping industry will be faced with real chaos,” ICS Chairman Esben Poulsson said in a statement.

“At least for the next several years, there will be an IMO standard for ballast water management and a separate U.S. standard,” said Dennis Bryant, a marine consultant and former Coast Guard officer. “One should not expect the United States to significantly change its BWM policy. With luck, a number of IMO type-approved BWM systems will also garner U.S. type approval.”

In a statement, Rear Adm. Paul Thomas, assistant commandant for prevention policy, said the Coast Guard welcomed ratification of the BWM Convention.

“We also understand that the announcement heightens concerns in the industry about the differences between the Ballast Water Management Convention and the U.S. ballast water regulation,” Thomas said. He reiterated the Coast Guard’s position that “the entry into force of the convention will not change the U.S. Coast Guard approach to or enforcement of the U.S. ballast water regulations.”

“Ships operating in U.S. waters must comply with U.S. requirements, including using one of the ballast water management practices described in 33 CFR Part 151.2025 and 2050. Therefore, ships in U.S. waters will not be subject to Port State Control verification of compliance with the Ballast Water Management Convention.”

Thomas noted that the discharge standards in U.S. regulations are the same as the standards in the BWM Convention. However, there are differences in testing and verification protocols as well as confusion about the definition of a “non-viable” organism — whether that means no longer living or just not able to reproduce.

U.S. type-approval procedures are mandatory and specify testing that is independent from manufacturers. They are also very detailed and require more testing than foreign type-approval procedures.

Currently, 19 manufacturers with ballast water treatment systems approved under the AMS provisions are seeking type approval from the Coast Guard. Several manufacturers including Optimarin and Alfa Laval said they have recently completed testing with one of the Coast Guard’s independent labs.

Optimarin was the first to submit for type approval, “an important milestone for the future of protecting our nation’s waterways from the spread of invasive species,” said Capt. John Mauger, commanding officer of the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Center. The MSC plans to review and reply to compliance applications within 30 days.

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