Ballast water is an essential component of vessel safety and efficiency throughout the global fleet. Each year, vessels transfer around 12 billion tonnes of ballast water across the oceans, a process which has been identified as posing potentially serious environmental problems. Discharged ballast water may introduce predatory species into host environments, leading to competition with native species and altering local ecosystems. Ultimately, this has an economic impact - estimated to be US$8 billion per year in the United States alone.

The Convention

To address these issues, the IMO adopted the “International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments” (the Convention) on 13 February 2004. The Convention enters into force 12 months after ratification by 30 States representing at least 35% of the world’s tonnage. As of April 2015, 44 States have ratified the Convention, representing 32.86% of the world merchant fleet tonnage. It is anticipated that in the near future the Convention will attain the requisite signatories and will be in force by 20161. Ballast Water Management (BWM) has therefore become an industry hot topic.

The Convention itself comprises 22 Articles and one Annex, supplemented by a further 14 Technical Guidelines to support port state authorities, shipmasters and owners, equipment manufacturers and class societies.

In essence, the Convention compels owners to:

  • Implement a BWM plan.
  • Keep a ballast water record book.
  • Maintain vessel ballast water to an approved standard.

Compliance and enforcement

Compliance with standards can be established by one of two methods. First, owners can utilise ballast water exchange, but only if this can be achieved with a 95% exchange efficiency standard. The second method is to attain a compliant level of organism per unit of ballast water - the performance standard2. The latter method is favoured by the IMO and their intention is for ballast water exchange to be phased out as early as 2019.

It is envisaged that vessels will be vetted for compliance as part of routine port state inspection. Those in contravention of Convention standards will accordingly run the risk of detention, fines and possible criminal sanctions. Accordingly, those owners who choose not to comply will severely limit their vessels’ trading limits.

Implementation and impact

Sanctions under the Convention will be implemented on a graduated basis. Vessels constructed prior to the Convention’s entry into force will be obliged to comply with the Convention by the time of their first Oil Pollution Prevention renewal survey. This staggered introduction attempts to avoid bottlenecks in production at shipyards, in order to ensure compliance prior to the Convention entering into force. An example has been set by the United States, where an “alternative management system” was established by a similar phased process linked to vessels’ first scheduled dry-docking date.

Estimates indicate that the process of selecting and installing a BWM system will take between six months and one year, at a cost of up to US$4 million per vessel. Further cost implications of BWM systems include:

  • Increased fuel consumption.
  • Administrative costs, such as training.
  • Future surveys.
  • The ongoing costs of ensuring compliant protocols on board.

Owners’ concern that ballast water standards will tighten in the near future (even before the Convention enters into force) was somewhat addressed by the IMO in October 2014, when it announced the intention to revise the Convention to provide some (as yet undefined) protection to owners who install BWM systems before the revised guidelines are applied. There also remains a need for the harmonisation of Convention standards and those implemented separately in the United States, the latter of which imposes more stringent limits.

The imminent implementation of the Convention may mark a challenging and expensive period for owners. We will continue to provide updates on developments.