New and expensive global regulations to deal with a ship’s ballast water that will take effect soon are engaging the attention of the maritime industry.

The Ballast Water Management Convention 2004 adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) will require fleet owners to understand the compliance standards, develop a ballast water management plan, select and install a treatment system and train personnel to operate it.

The convention requires ratification by 30 states, accounting for 35% of world merchant tonnage (capacity). To date, the signatures of states that make up 32.6% of tonnage have been obtained, with the remainder expected shortly.

While transporting cargo, ships transfer around 0.66 billion tonnes of ballast sea water, which is often taken on from the coastal waters in one region after the ships discharge wastewater or unload cargo and discharged at the next port of call, where more cargo is loaded.

Ballast water discharge typically contains a variety of biological materials, including plants, animals, viruses, and bacteria. These materials often include non-native, exotic species that can cause extensive ecological and economic damage to aquatic ecosystems, along with serious human health issues.

The Marine Environment Protection Committee of the IMO has issued guidelines to facilitate the implementation and uniform interpretation of the convention by all countries. The convention takes a comprehensive overview of ballast water management, including reception facilities, water exchange, sampling, sediment reception, treatment technology and risk management.

There is strong support for the Ballast Water Management Convention, given the damage caused to the environment by “invasive alien species, depletion of fish stocks and the high cost of controlling these effects".

But the cost of compliance to shipowners will be very high. A ballast water treatment system can cost anywhere between $500,000 and $5 million. There will be ancillary costs, including developing a ballast water management plan, dry docking and installation.

Over 50,000 ships are to be retrofitted with ballast water treatments systems in the next five years. The estimated market from these treatment systems alone is around $50 billion.

The parties to the convention can impose additional measures on ships to prevent, reduce or eliminate the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens through ships’ ballast water and sediments. Ballast water management systems complying with the convention standards may still fall foul of more stringent standards set in the US and other countries.

Shipowners who trade (carry cargo?) to these jurisdictions must, therefore, install systems that meet these more stringent standards.

The signatory states will be responsible for enforcing the convention in respect of the ships registered under their flags and the ships entering their jurisdictional waters. The convention provides for the ratifying states to establish sanctions, which should be sufficiently strong to discourage violations. There is a concern that the application, interpretation and enforcement of the convention requirements and the sanctions imposed by the states will differ.

Masamichi Morooka, chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), warned about the dangers of regional maritime regulations being adopted by governments that are at variance with the global maritime convention adopted by the IMO.

“Global rules for a global shipping industry is not just a slogan," Morooka said on 20 April, while addressing members of the Singapore Shipping Association.

ICS is a global shipowners lobby, representing over 80% of the world’s fleet.

Morooka highlighted the big problem caused by the ballast water treatment regimes that apply in the US that are different from those adopted by the IMO through the Ballast Water Management Convention.

“Whether we like it or not, the political reality is that the IMO Convention is probably going to enter into force sooner rather than later and we, therefore, have to make it work. But the conflicting IMO and US requirements, when combined with the lack of systems fully approved by the US, could produce an impossible dilemma in which some ships might not be able to operate in US waters if the IMO convention enters in force before US-approved equipment is commercially available."

He added: “The problem is that the US has adopted a process for the approval of ballast treatment equipment that is different to that adopted by IMO. At the request of the shipping industry, led by ICS, IMO has agreed to make the IMO type-approval process more robust while also advising governments not to penalize shipowners that have installed first-generation equipment in good faith. But the US will not be a party to the international convention. "

Under the current US regulations, shipowners that have installed IMO type-approved systems, at a cost of between $1-5 million per ship, might have to replace the system completely after five years. This is a particular concern for operators.

“This is an example of the very bad situation that can result when nations decide to adopt maritime rules unilaterally," Morooka said.

The high economic costs to shipowners arising out of compliance in a depressed freight market has forced countries such as India to go slow on ratifying the convention in a bid to buy time till the market improves. India does not want to rush into signing up for the convention; yet, it is keeping ready all the documents required for the ratification so that the moment the 35% tonnage mark is reached for the convention to come into force, it will have no choice but to sign up.

The downside side of not ratifying the convention is enormous.

Whether India ratifies or not, its ships will have no choice but to implement them if they want to trade internationally. On the other hand, India will be deprived of all the benefits of the convention if it decides not to ratify. Foreign ships will keep freely polluting Indian waters; Indian ships will be targeted across the world as a non-ratified flag and its products will not have any international acceptance. Above all, it will not have any say in the IMO on any future amendments to the convention.

P. Manoj looks at trends in the shipping industry.

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