Detention risks elevate with start of BWM Convention

Ports state control began more scrutiny of ballast water management on 8 September. Credit: Dietmar Hasenpusch
Ports state control began more scrutiny of ballast water management on 8 September. Credit: Dietmar Hasenpusch

Vessels calling at ports in countries that have ratified the Ballast Water Management Convention are under extra scrutiny by port state control inspectors now that the convention came into force on 8 September.

Countries that are parties to the BWM Convention under the International Maritime Organization (IMO) must now impose the requirements of the convention on all vessels, whether those vessels are flagged by countries that have ratified the convention or not.

Port state control can check to make sure a ship has a valid BWM Convention certificate issued by the vessel’s flag administration. They can also inspect the ship’s Ballast Water Record Book, and/or sample the ship’s ballast water.

According to the convention, if port state control finds evidence of non-compliance, they are now authorised to carry out a more detailed inspection, and to “take such steps as will ensure that the ship shall not discharge ballast water until it can do so without presenting a threat of harm to the environment, human health, property, or resources”.

Because the United States is not a signatory to the convention, it cannot regulate compliance for either US-flagged vessels or foreign flagged vessels operating in US waters. However, the US Coast Guard issued a policy letter on 7 September establishing a voluntary inspection scheme for US-flagged vessels trading with countries that are party to the convention.

Jeanne Grasso, a partner with the law firm Blank Rome, “highly recommended” US operators to participate in the programme.

“If I were a US flag shipowner, it would be unwise to enter a country without being able to demonstrate compliance with the convention,” Grasso told IHS Markit. “Any prudent shipowner would want to go through this process, or risk being detained.”

For shipowners, the biggest cost of complying with the convention has been addressing the “D-2” standard, which requires installing a ballast water treatment system (BWTS). Since the one-year countdown to enforcement began in September 2016, when the convention was ratified, owners have been working more intensely to weigh compliance strategies, from investment in various types of available BWTS to assessing whether to scrap the vessel altogether.

For vessels that are eligible for decoupling their International Oil Pollution Prevention (IOPP) certificate from other major surveys, they will be able to take advantage of a two-year compliance extension approved at MEPC 71.

Commenting on the extension on 6 September, Esben Poulsson, chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping, noted that shipowners collectively could end up spending roughly USD100 billion to install ballast water treatment equipment.

“Shipowners must make full use of this additional time to identify and invest in far more robust technology to the benefit of the environment,” he said. “And in view of the significant concessions that IMO has now made in response to the industry’s representations, shipping companies should not anticipate any further relaxation to the implementation schedule.”