One of the great difficulties with worldwide regulation is ensuring consistent implementation and compliance. The IMO’s Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention ratified by more than 40 states but not yet in force, is a case in point.

In assessing whether to approve BWM systems as meeting the IMO’s Ballast Water Performance Standard (the IMO Standard), flag states that have signed up to the Convention must take into account the guidelines set out by the IMO (Resolution MEPC 174(58)). Those guidelines are also intended to inform shipowners and technology manufacturers about the evaluation procedure for the equipment.

The US Coast Guard (USCG) has, however, developed its own ballast water performance standard (the USCG Standard) and guidelines for approving systems. The IMO Standard and USCG Standard are identical, but the respective guidelines are not.

As a result, shipowners and technology manufacturers should take care to ensure that both the IMO guidelines and USCG guidelines are consulted when considering developing, fitting and using BWM systems. A BWM system approved as meeting the IMO Standard may be eligible for approval as an Alternate Management System (AMS) by the USCG, entitling the ship to which it is fitted to trade in US and Canadian waters without full type approval.

That said, AMS approval only lasts five years beyond the  date when the ship would otherwise be required to comply with the USCG Standard. Although the AMS regime is a useful “stop gap” measure, the lack of clarity about whether or not BWM systems approved under the IMO guidelines will ultimately obtain USCG-type approval – and even whether or not the IMO guidelines will be applied consistently in the BWM Convention’s signatory states – is unwelcome.

The IMO seems alive to these issues in obtaining approvals. It initiated a study on the implementation of the IMO Standard in late March, exploring the similarities and differences in testing and certification of BWM systems worldwide.

The survey was open to technology manufacturers and shipowners (among others) until 1 June 2015. If the study assists in getting nearer to a consistent worldwide approach to testing BWM systems and applying the guidelines for approval, it will have been a success.

Once the Convention has come into force, shipowners and operators should ensure that ballast water samples taken to monitor regulatory compliance are representative of the entire discharge, and that the operation of multi-use tanks does not give rise to mixing of different water types.

Failure to keep a close eye on these matters could lead to fines and delays in ports for breach of IMO or USCG guidelines, with the risk of charterparty disputes ensuing. A ship “unduly detained or delayed” by Port State Control under the BWM Convention may, however, be entitled to compensation.

First published in The Motorship, May 2015 issue