Australia ratifies ballast water convention

Barnaby Joyce
Barnaby Joyce

Australia has become the latest country to ratify the Ballast Water Management Convention that involves more than 50 nations and will be imposed globally by the International Maritime Organisation in just three months from today.

The coalition government of Australia signed the BWM Convention – its full name is the International Convention for the Control of Ship’s Ballast Water and Sediment – in London on 8 June, a regulation that is aimed at phasing out risky ballast water exchange and pushing the development of new and more effective ballast water treatment technologies. It will come into force on 8 September, 2017.

Barnaby Joyce, Australia’s deputy prime minister and minister for agriculture and water resources, said the government had worked with states and territories, as well as the shipping and maritime industry, including Shipping Australia and Maritime Industries Australia, both of which were integral players in the development of the convention.

“The shipping industry will be required to adopt new, more effective discharge standards in the form of ballast water treatment systems on their vessels within the first few years of the convention being in force,” Joyce said in a statement.

There are stiff penalties for those who fail to comply. A ship operator may be fined up to USD270,000 (AUD360,000) for failing to implement the ballast water requirements.

Shipping Australia welcomed the decision to ratify the rule, with CEO Rod Nairn saying it brought Australia in line with global shipping standards, enhancing marine biosecurity in the country’s maritime environment while adopting a common standard of ballast water management.

“The international shipping industry is willing to bear the high cost of installing compliant ballast water treatment systems in order to remove the risk of transferring marine pests through ballast water,” Nairn said.

There are estimates that the global maritime industry will spend upwards of USD75 billion on equipping their vessels with ballast water treatment systems. Depending on the size of the vessel, its ballast water capacity, and the type of treatment, estimates show that the cost of implementation of the treatment systems can range from USD500,000 to USD5 million per vessel with 40,000 ships to be equipped. This is in addition to other maintenance and operational costs.

Nairn said the national shipping association expected the reduced risk from implementing the convention would be recognised by the government through a reduction in international vessel arrival fees for biosecurity compliance.

“This is another responsible action by international shipping to reduce the impact of shipping on the environment, and is consistent with the industry’s support for the IMO’s programme to reduce fuel sulphur limits and CO2 emissions from ships,” he said.

“Shipping is the most environmentally efficient means of long haul freight movement and we aim to keep it that way. It is essential that Australia maintains alignment with international norms so that ships can comply, as there are no boundary fences in the ocean,” he said.

Joyce said although Australia had regulated the use of ballast water on international vessels arriving in the country’s waters since 2001, there was no nationally consistent system for domestic voyages.

“Implementation of the convention in Australia will put these requirements in place to ensure marine pests already established in some parts of Australia are not able to spread to other Australian ports,” he said.

Ballast water is water taken on by ships before departure to maintain stability and is generally discharged at the next port of call. Each year, around 200 million tonnes of ship’s ballast water is discharged into Australian ports by 16,000 ship visits from around 600 overseas ports.

“Ballast water is a serious threat to Australia’s biosecurity because plants and animals that live in the ocean are also picked up from the point of departure, and could devastate our marine environments, fisheries and aquaculture industries when they are released into Australian waters,” Joyce said.

He said the ratification of the convention meant that, for most ships, ballast water could not be exchanged within 200 nautical miles (approximately 370 km) of the Great Barrier Reef, as opposed to the current 12 nautical miles (22 km) minimal distance.

While Australia and its shipping industry expresses support for the convention, there is mounting concern among shipowners trying to retrofit their vessels to comply with the new ballast water regulations.

Dry bulk shipping association INTERCARGO said recently that it was concerned about the practical problems faced by its members trying to retrofit their fleets with the ballast water management systems (BWMS) and would be raising the issues at the forthcoming IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) 71 in July.

“While it welcomes the purpose and the focus of the convention, INTERCARGO believes that the regulatory bodies should consider the challenges faced by the existing bulk carriers, the largest segment of world shipping by deadweight tonnage,” the association said in a statement after a meeting in Hong Kong earlier this year.

The United States has not accepted the convention and has instead adopted its own ballast-water regulations in 2012, which has created significant difficulties for the maritime industry. A major issue for the dry bulk shipowners has been the availability of systems approved by the US Coast Guard (USCG). Of the three USCG type approved BWMS available to date, the association said only one system was realistically suitable to bulk carriers for retrofitting.

Bjorn Hojgaard, CEO of Anglo-Eastern Univan Group, said of the 610 vessels managed by the group, 25% had the right ballast water treatment systems installed and he did not expect any disruption when the convention was enforced from 8 September.

“It has been difficult for shipowners to find out how the rules will be enforced, and it hasn’t helped that the US has had a different approach to the rules,” he said. “But the regulations challenge our industry and move the bar up. The more difficult it becomes to manage ships, the more it requires a proper organisation and scale to do it.”