The BWM Convention will harmonise ballast water practices and requirements worldwide, but it has yet to enter into force.
Entry into force
The Ballast Water Management Convention (BWM) has been on the agenda for the last 20 years; in 2004 it was adopted and presented for signature. There are at present 27 signatory states, and three more are needed before the Convention becomes effective one year after the 30th state has ratified it, provided these states have merchant fleets representing not less than 35 per cent of the world tonnage.
As outlined previously in Gard News, the problems arising from ballast water transport around the world have received increased attention in most coastal states and one can observe a degree of impatience in getting the international regulations in place. In many states national regulations have been implemented pending entry into force of the BWM Convention, others have adopted regimes independent of the BWM Convention. This creates a difficult situation for shipowners, who need to comply with varying legislation in different ports of call.
In brief, the BWM Convention provides for routines on board ships with record-keeping, sampling and exchange of ballast water in open sea. It also introduces obligatory treatment of ballast water on board and sets standards for the water permitted for discharge. In addition, states party to the convention will have to establish reception facilities for sediments of ballast water. The Convention allows states to adopt stricter regulations but these should be in line with the guidelines of the Convention and compatible with its provisions. This should harmonise the practice worldwide and should enable the shipping industry to establish a consistent practice.
However, the water treatment systems provided for in the Convention still have to be approved, the Convention was to some extent premature in this respect in that no treatment systems existed at the time. The Convention has therefore boosted developments in this field and a series of new inventions and patents are now in line for approval.
So far very few coastal states have established reception facilities as per the requirements of the BWM Convention and efforts are needed also in this respect.
Adaptations in national legislation and practices
Some of the states already signatory to the Convention, such as Australia and Norway, have adapted their national legislation in line with the Convention. However, in the absence of technology required to comply with the Convention and reception facilities, only the record-keeping and water exchange routines at a given distance from shore can be practised.
Other states have established their own practices with respect to ballast water management and in certain places severe penalisation can be expected, such as in the Ukraine.1
In Turkey the authorities have intensified the sampling and testing of ballast water from ships. This is partly to ensure the ballast water meets the local requirements, but also to discover any illegal discharge of sewage, oil or other pollutant through the ballast water. The fines for such illegal discharge are high in Turkey, and members have an uphill struggle when defending such accusations.
The United States are probably not going to ratify the BWM Convention and there is a trend there for individual states to adopt varying practices. This creates a challenge for shipowners and caution is necessary in order to comply with the appropriate regulations in each state. New York state has adopted particularly strict regulations. The industry has protested that the regulations are so strict that there is no technology available yet to meet the standard set out. New York state has therefore reluctantly postponed the entry into force of the new regulations.
The BWM Convention will probably come into force within a couple of years as technological advancements render its requirements more feasible. The Convention will impose on shipowners a revision of practices and technological upgrade of their ships, which can be a challenge for some. However, it is clear that the BWM Convention has the aim to harmonise requirements worldwide and set common standards. It would therefore be better for the industry to see a majority of coastal states adopting the Convention rather than establishing local practices.
As the situation is today, shipowners should always consult local agents about the required practice in any port of call.
1 See articles "Ballast water - High fines for small infringements in Ukraine" in Gard News issue No. 188 and "De-ballasting in Ukraine - A follow-up" in Gard News issue No. 189.
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