Global ballast water regulation coming into force on 8 September 2017

Global ballast water regulation coming into force on 8 September 2017

The countdown has started for all ships on international voyages to prepare to meet the ballast water management performance standard prescribed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).  In most cases, this will require fitting a ballast water management system (BWMS).

IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim receiving Finland’s instrument of acceptance

Accession by Finland has triggered the entry into force of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM Convention), as it pushed the tonnage of ratifying parties above the 35% tonnage threshold.

Under the terms of the Convention, 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,” IMO explained. In practice, most ships will need to install a BWMS to comply with the ballast water performance standard (D-2).

The requirement to meet the ballast water performance standard will be phased in over a period of time to make the transition more manageable. The phased approach was agreed at the IMO after it was accepted that it would be impossible to retrofit the global fleet within one year once the entry into force criteria was met, as most shipowners have been reluctant to invest in current BWM technology. Apart from the significant cost, there are also doubts about the current IMO guidelines, called G-8, for approval of BWM systems. The G-8 guidelines are currently under review and will be revised as a matter of priority.

As previously explained by IBIA, the IMO has agreed that existing ships will not need to comply with the D-2 standard until their first renewal survey following the date of entry into force of the Convention. In practice, if a vessel has had its renewal survey just before the BWM Convention enters into force it could be up to five years before it is required to have its next renewal survey and meet the D-2 standard.

The intention of the BWM Convention is to prevent the spread of potentially invasive species carried in ship’s ballast water tanks, which “This is a truly significant milestone for the health of our planet,” said IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim in connection with receiving Finland’s instrument of acceptance to the BWM Convention on 8 September 2016. 

It is possible to grant exemptions from the requirement to manage ballast water for ships operating in a limited geographical area, if it can be demonstrated that they won’t constitute a risk to spreading potentially invasive species. At present, this means coastal states that are Parties to the BWM Convention would be able to grant exemptions to a ship or ships operating between specified ports or locations using a risk assessment in accordance with IMO Guidelines (G-7).

IBIA will continue to monitor the potential for a proposal to define and apply a mechanism for two or more coastal states (Parties) to delineate a “same risk area” (SRA). This would simplify the process of providing exemptions for vessels that operate only within a specified SRA, which IBIA believes could benefit bunker tankers.

The SRA concept is on the agenda for the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting in October.

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