Vessel operators lobby to extend ballast water deadlines

Butler says modifying deadlines could save the industry billions. Credit: John Gallagher/IHS
Butler says modifying deadlines could save the industry billions. Credit: John Gallagher/IHS

A coalition of maritime groups aims to convince the IMO to put back deadlines under the Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention so owners can install second-generation cleaning systems.

The World Shipping Council (WSC) is proposing a filing that it claims will prevent shipowners investing billions on treatment systems that may fail the treaty’s requirements for killing or rendering harmless invasive species.

“We want to make sure the equipment works and is fit for purpose and actually gives us the environmental benefits that the convention is designed to produce,” WSC president John Butler told IHS IHS Markit.

The BWM Convention is close to coming into force, having met the requirement for ratification by 30 member states, with 51 signed up by 2 August. But the gross tonnage these countries represent – 34.87% of the world fleet – is still slightly short of a 35% threshold. The convention takes effect a year after that percentage is reached.

Member states have used the IMO’s G8 guidelines to type-approve 65 ballast water treatment systems. But a recent investigation into how this standard is applied found that it may fail to ensure equipment meets the convention’s new discharge standards.

The United States has not signed up to the convention and has yet to type-approve a ballast water treatment system under its own set of guidelines.

The US Coast Guard (USCG), in charge of overseeing America’s type-approval process, aims to establish a testing regime that is “transparent, repeatable, reliable and applicable to the full spectrum of ballast water encountered by global shipping”, according to Paul Thomas, the USCG’s assistant commander for prevention policy.

That approach is at odds with US lawmakers, who argue the US type-approval process is taking too long. Several suggested during a hearing on Capitol Hill in April that an “80% solution” should be good enough, instead of waiting for a sure-fire ballast water treatment system that guarantees all invasive organisms are killed or rendered harmless.

Butler would prefer the IMO to adopt measures more in line with the USCG’s stance. “Let’s not rush through an ‘any system is better than no system’ approach – we don’t agree with that position,” he said.