Bunker tanker owners push for ballast water exemptions

Hong Lam Marine’s bunkering tanker Decorum. Credit: Dietmar Hasenpusch
Hong Lam Marine’s bunkering tanker Decorum. Credit: Dietmar Hasenpusch

Bunker tanker owners could avoid purchasing millions of dollars worth of equipment if the International Maritime Organisation expands the scope of exemptions that apply to the Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention, a major lobbying group claims.

The International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA), which represents bunker suppliers and vessel owners at the IMO, is backing a proposal submitted to the IMO last year by Croatia, Denmark, Singapore, and other groups that would exempt coastwise and short-sea vessels operating within “same risk areas” (SRAs) from purchasing new ballast water equipment.

The proposal contends that vessels travelling within such areas would be exposed to the same aquatic species and therefore would be at minimal risk of introducing a potentially invasive species through a vessel’s ballast water.

In a statement released on 24 May, IBIA noted that a bunker tanker operating in an SRA would not need a BWM system. It could also journey outside the SRA as long as it never makes any ballast water exchanges outside of the SRA. “Alternatively, the vessel could clean its BW tanks and use fresh water for such a foray,” IBIA stated.

“IBIA believes this approach may also benefit bunker tanker owners with vessels operating in a limited geographical range between neighbouring coastal states, for example between Denmark and Sweden, or between Singapore and Malaysia,” the group asserted. “It could be relevant for many areas such as the Adriatic, the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea, the Gibraltar Strait, and the English Channel.”

Ferry industry association Interferry, which has also signed on to the SRA exemption proposal, has been particularly concerned about the lack of flexibility in the BWM Convention for the domestic shipping sector.

“If your ship happens to cross an invisible national border at sea, you need to comply. There is no biological justification for this apparent double standard that member states have agreed to and it needs to be fixed within the coming 12 months,” Interferry director of regulatory affairs Johan Roos told IHS IHS Markit in November.

The convention, which many expect to enter into force later this year, does have provisions for granting exemptions, but they are granted largely on a per-ship basis and are effective for no more than five years. The proposal under consideration at the IMO would designate areas in which a general exemption to the BWM requirements could be issued.

At its 69th session held 18–22 April, the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) noted that the BWM Convention has been ratified by 49 countries representing 34.79% of the world’s merchant fleet tonnage. The convention requires 35% of world tonnage to enter into force.

IMO secretary general Kitack Lim, whose tenure began in January, acknowledged at the April MEPC session that the cost to purchase and install a BWM system is a major cost concern for shipowners, but that concern should not stop IMO member states from ratifying the convention.

Exemptions to the convention were scheduled to be discussed during the 69th MEPC. However, “owing to time constraints, the committee agreed to defer consideration of the matter to MEPC 70” in October, the IMO confirmed.