The ballast water convention

Having now achieved the required number of signatories, the new International Maritime Organisation (IMO) International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (the “Convention”) originally adopted in 2004 will enter into force on 8 September 2017. The Convention is expected to have a significant impact on ships engaged in international trade by requiring them to manage their ballast water and sediments to certain minimum standards, and eventually to install onboard ballast water management systems.

Upon discharge of a cargo, vessels typically pump sea water into their sea chests as ballast to increase trim and ensure safe stability for transit voyages. This water can contain a myriad of biological stowaways such as bacteria and viruses inherent to the port where the ballast waters are taken on and which will then be released into the water of its next port of call when cargo is next loaded. Whilst ballast water is essential for safe and efficient shipping operations, it can pose serious ecological, economic and health problems due to the multitude of marine species carried in it. By way of example, ballast water is known to have been the principal cause of cholera epidemics killing thousands of people, and there are numerous examples of foreign species of algae and jelly fish disrupting local species, thereby causing substantial economic losses to local fishing industries.

In response to such problems, the Convention was established for the purpose of preventing, minimizing and ultimately eliminating risks to biodiversity, the environment and to human health arising from the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms through improved management of ballast water and sediments.

The entry into force of the Convention next year will force shipowners to make significant investments to install compliant ballast water management systems, however, it is important to also be aware of up-coming national regulations which may impose more stringent requirement on owners than the Convention. The US, notably, has already implemented separate ballast water treatment regulations, which have higher standards than those of the Convention. One example is the US requirement that parasites should be killed immediately when the ballast water is emptied (also called “instant kill”) whilst the IMO requirements only requires that the treatment damages the organism’s reproductive ability, preventing them from establishing themselves in a new area.

In response to concern amongst shipowners as to whether the IMO standards imposed by the Convention are sufficiently robust to ensure compliance with the more stringent regulations imposed by certain nations and the risk that an IMO approved system under the Convention will not be able to meet, for example, the US requirements, the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MPEC) met in late October this year, where they adopted revised Guidelines for approval of ballast water management systems and it was recommended that these Guidelines be adopted into the Convention and that ballast water systems installed on ships on or after 28 October 2020 should comply with the revised guidelines.

Consequences for shipowners

The Convention will apply to all internationally traded vessels registered in states that are parties to the Convention, and to all other internationally traded vessels operating in the waters of such member states. Not only vessels, but also submersibles, floating crafts and platforms, FSUs and FPSOs will be subject to the Convention. However, as a rule the Convention shall not apply to vessels which only operate within the territorial waters of its flag state. 

Many countries have already adopted national legislation to implement the Convention. In Norway this has been done through the Regulation of Ballast Water, which entered into force as of 1 July 2010. However, as facilities to receive ballast water for treatment do not yet exist in Norway, the Norwegian Regulations currently only require certain procedures to be followed when exchanging ballast water, namely that this is to be carried out at a certain distance from the shore, and to be recorded.

When the Convention enters into force next autumn however, all vessels to which the Convention applies will be required to be eventually equipped with an IMO approved ballast water treatment technology. For existing tonnage, the date of compliance with the so-called “D-2 standard” will coincide with the next renewal date of a vessel’s International Oil Pollution Certificate (IOPPC) (IOPPCs are usually renewed every fifth year).

However, new ships, with a keel laying date after 8 September 2017, will be required to have a ballast water treatment system installed at delivery. In the transitional period, from the entry into force of the Convention and until the D-2 standard are phased in for all vessels, ballast water must be handled in accordance with the water exchange routines set out in the so-called “D-1 standard”. As stated above, the more stringent requirements required by the revised Guidelines will then be required to be complied with by October 2020.

New opportunities for suppliers

As frustrating as it might be for shipowners, the current situation has spurred the development of new technology and it is believed that shipowners will soon have a wider array of ballast water systems which are both IMO and US compliant. Several Norwegian companies, such as OceanSaver, Knudsen Technology and Optimarin have grasped this business opportunity, and are currently in the process of being evaluated and hopefully approved by the US authorities.

It has been estimated that the cost to shipowners of installing approved ballast water management system will be anywhere from 1 to 5 USD million per vessel. The cost will naturally be dependent on the type of vessel involved but it is to be hoped that increased competition among suppliers will help to drive prices down. In any case it is very important for shipowners to stay on top of the rapid developments both in terms of regulations and in terms of new technology.



Standards for Ballast Water Management

  • Ballast Water Exchange Standard (D-1): Requires ships to perform ballast water exchange with an efficiency of at least 95 % volumetric exchange of ballast water. When possible, the exchange shall only be done at least 200 nautical miles from the nearest land and in waters of at least 200 metres depth.
  • Ballast Water Performance Standard (D-2): Regulates the amount of viable organisms ­allowed in the discharged water after being treated by an IMO approved system.