Australia beats IMO on ballast as Biosecurity Act enters into force

Australia's Biosecurity Act comes into effect on 1 July. Photo: Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Australia's Biosecurity Act comes into effect on 1 July. Photo: Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Ballast water management systems (BWMS), put in place to prevent invasive aquatic organisms colonising Australia’s coastal waters, have not come without bugs of their own.

Vessels have been literally sailing in circles off Victoria’s coast while waiting to exchange ballast water – sometimes a 72-hour process – on a three-hour voyage from one domestic Australian port to another.

Teresa Lloyd, CEO of Maritime Industry Australia Ltd (MIAL), helped pioneer the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) Convention for the Control & Management of Ships’ Ballast Water & Sediments, which awaits global enforcement. But she is only too aware of problems in the system that still need ironing out.

Shipowners worldwide are in a conundrum, having invested huge sums in treatment technology, only to find that the systems might not meet standards in the United States, she told IHS IHS Markit. Scientists are still arguing whether rendering the invasive organisms inactive constitutes a sufficient approach – or whether shipping needs to go in for the kill.

Ships equipped with expensive BWMS in preparation for the IMO Convention’s Phase D2 had not been allowed to use it in Australia. Fully equipped ships had been forced to revert to D1 interim measures, exchanging ballast water at sea.

Australia’s new Biosecurity Act, which will come into force on 1 July, has finally changed that. Australia moved ahead of the IMO Convention back in 2001, introducing mandatory ballast water exchange at sea for both international and coastal shipping. The country was also a key player in developing the IMO Convention and signed off on it, subject to ratification, in 2005.

Now it is again a jump ahead. The Biosecurity Act brings Australia one step closer to full compliance with the IMO Convention even before it takes effect. The act recognises approved ballast treatment systems used by ships trading with Australia – as long as they meet IMO standards.

This list will be continually updated once new BWMS are approved for use at the IMO, a representative told IHS IHS Markit from the Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service (AQIS), which operates under the Department of Agriculture.

The department is aware that the United States has introduced its own BWMS approval process for use in US waters, the source confirmed, but Australia is not participating in the US approval process.

In conjunction with the new bill, AQIS has launched its Maritime Arrivals Reporting System (MARS but not to be confused with Mariner’s Alerting & Reporting Scheme). It uses a web-based system that went live via a pilot project at the Queensland coal port of Hay Point in mid-July this year, then at Gladstone in August, before a phased rollout to other ports.

While the Biosecurity Act embodies the IMO Convention, the technology will drive it. Ship masters can enter information directly into MARS or, in the case of poor internet access on board, complete the report using a downloaded smart form.