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Global ballast water treaty to enter into force in 2017

Sep 8, 2016 10:07 AM

Ratification by Finland triggers treatment requirements under a 2004 IMO pact

Courtesy IMO

The following is the text of a news release from the International Maritime Organization (IMO):

(LONDON) — Accession by Finland has triggered the entry into force of a key international measure for environmental protection that aims to stop the spread of potentially invasive aquatic species in ships’ ballast water.

The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM Convention) will enter into force on Sept. 8, 2017, marking a landmark step toward halting the spread of invasive aquatic species, which can cause havoc for local ecosystems, affect biodiversity and lead to substantial economic loss. Under the convention’s terms, ships will be required to manage their ballast water to remove, render harmless, or avoid the uptake or discharge of aquatic organisms and pathogens within ballast water and sediments.

“This is a truly significant milestone for the health of our planet,” said IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim.

“The spread of invasive species has been recognized as one of the greatest threats to the ecological and the economic well-being of the planet. These species are causing enormous damage to biodiversity and the valuable natural riches of the earth upon which we depend. Invasive species also cause direct and indirect health effects and the damage to the environment is often irreversible,” he said. 

He added, “The entry into force of the Ballast Water Management Convention will not only minimize the risk of invasions by alien species via ballast water, it will also provide a global level playing field for international shipping, providing clear and robust standards for the management of ballast water on ships.”

Paivi Luostarinen, permanent representative of Finland to the IMO, handed over the country’s instrument of acceptance to the Ballast Water Management Convention to Lim on Thursday.

The accession brings the combined tonnage of contracting states to the treaty to 35.1 percent, with 52 contracting parties. The convention stipulates that it will enter into force 12 months after ratification by a minimum of 30 states, representing 35 percent of world merchant shipping tonnage.

The BWM Convention was adopted in 2004 by the IMO, the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for developing global standards for ship safety and security and for the protection of the marine environment and the atmosphere from any harmful impacts of shipping. 

The ballast water problem

Ballast water is routinely taken on by ships for stability and structural integrity. It can contain thousands of aquatic microbes, algae and animals, which are then carried across the world’s oceans and released into ecosystems where they are not native.

Untreated ballast water released at a ship’s destination could potentially introduce a new invasive aquatic species. Expanded ship trade and traffic volume over the last few decades has increased the likelihood of invasive species being released. Hundreds of invasions have already taken place, sometimes with devastating consequences for the local ecosystem.

The Ballast Water Management Convention will require all ships in international trade to manage their ballast water and sediments to certain standards, according to a ship-specific ballast water management plan. All ships will also have to carry a ballast water record book and an international ballast water management certificate. The ballast water performance standard will be phased in over a period of time. Most ships will need to install an onboard system to treat ballast water and eliminate unwanted organisms. More than 60 type-approved systems are already available.  

IMO has been addressing the problem of invasive species in ships’ ballast water since the 1980s, when member states experiencing particular problems brought their concerns to the attention of IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC). Guidelines to address the issue were adopted in 1991 and IMO then worked to develop the Ballast Water Management Convention, which was adopted in 2004.

IMO has worked extensively with the development of guidelines for the uniform implementation of the convention and to address concerns of various stakeholders, such as with regards to the availability of ballast water management systems and their type approval and testing.

Shipboard ballast water management systems must be approved by national authorities, according to a process developed by IMO. Ballast water management systems have to be tested in a land-based facility and on board ships to prove that they meet the performance standard set out in the treaty. These could, for example, include systems which make use of filters and ultraviolet light or electrochlorination.

Ballast water management systems which make use of active substances must undergo a strict approval procedure and be verified by IMO. There is a two-tier process, in order to ensure that the ballast water management system does not pose unreasonable risk to ship safety, human health and the aquatic environment. 

The following is text from a news release from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS):

ICS says there is still great uncertainty with respect to the more stringent United States approval regime for treatment equipment, which started to be enforced in January 2014 (the U.S. not being a party to the IMO Convention).

The U.S. regulations require all ships that discharge ballast water in U.S. waters to use a treatment system approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. However, because no systems have yet been approved, ships already required to comply with the U.S. regulations have either been granted extensions to the dates for fitting the required treatment systems or else permitted to install a USCG-accepted alternate management system (AMS), in practice a system type-approved in accordance with the current IMO guidelines.

However, an AMS will only be accepted for operation for five years, after which time a fully USCG-approved system must be installed. But the USCG does not guarantee that an AMS will be subsequently granted full approval. Hence shipowners that may have installed an AMS in good faith, at a cost of between $1 million and $5 million per ship, might then have to replace the system completely after only five years.

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