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Ballast Water Management

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has developed and adopted “The International Convention for The Control and Management of Ships Ballast Water Ballast Water and Sediments, 2004”, Ballast Water Management Convention, (BWMC) with the aim of protecting the marine environment from the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms in ballast water carried by ships.

Whilst ballast water is essential for safe and efficient shipping, the spread of aquatic invasive species through ballast water is now recognized as one of the greatest threats to the ecological and economic well being of the planet. According to IMO estimates, ships carry some 3 billion tons to 10 billion tons of ballast water globally each year.

The convention will come into effect 12 months after 30 countries representing a combined total gross tonnage of more than 35% of the world’s merchant fleet have ratified it. Currently 36 countries representing a combined tonnage of 29.07% of the world’s merchant fleet have ratified the convention as of September 2012.

Under the Convention, ships are required to have on board and implement a Ballast Water Management Plan approved by the relevant Flag State Administration. The Ballast Water Management Plan is specific to each ship and includes a detailed description of the actions to be taken to implement the Ballast Water Management requirements and supplemental Ballast Water Management practices.

Ships must also maintain a Ballast Water Record Book to record when ballast water is taken on board; circulated, treated for Ballast Water Management purposes; and/or discharged into the sea. It should also record when Ballast Water is discharged to a reception facility and accidental or other exceptional discharges of Ballast Water.

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At the Marine Environmental Protection Committee meeting in October 2012 (MEPC 64) it was agreed that a Correspondence Group (CG) headed by Japan is to examine what options there are for implementation of the BWM Convention for existing ships given that the Convention is not yet ratified. The intention is to prepare an Assembly Resolution addressing the above issues. The two main proposals under consideration are as follows:

  • Consider ships built before the entry into force of the Convention to be existing ships and postpone the requirement for those ships to install treatment systems until their periodical surveys after 2016.
  • Remove the requirement to retrofit a treatment system at the intermediate survey after 2014/2016, and keep only that ships must retrofit a treatment system by the renewal survey after the anniversary date of the delivery of the ship in 2016.
  • The committee also recognized the technology and capacity challenges with treatment systems currently available (currently around 30) and agreed to enhance the type approval certificates so that they include more information on the treatment systems’ operational limitations.

There is also a proposal to initiate a period of “soft implementation” to allow for a period of thorough technology evaluation and the establishment of standard sampling procedures prior to mandatory implementation.

Transport Canada was active in the development of the Convention and provided ratification in 2010.