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The IMO has finally adopted the Ballast Convention.

The issue of ballast water has been on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) agenda for 15 years. However, it was only in February 2004 that the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (the Ballast Convention) was finally adopted.

Entry into force
The Ballast Convention will enter into force 12 months after ratification by 30 states, representing 35 per cent of world merchant shipping tonnage.

Main provisions
Parties to the convention undertake to give effect to its provisions in order to prevent, minimise and eliminate the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens through the control and management of ships’ ballast water and sediments.

Reception facilities
Parties undertake to ensure that ports and terminals where cleaning or repair of ballast tanks occurs, have adequate reception facilities for the reception of sediments.

Survey, certification and inspection
Ships are required to be surveyed and certified and may be inspected by port state control officers who can verify that the ship has a valid certificate, inspect the Ballast Water Record Book and/or sample the ballast water. If there are concerns, a detailed inspection may be carried out and the party carrying out the inspection must ensure that the ship will not discharge ballast water until it can do so safely.

All possible efforts shall be made to avoid a ship being unduly detained or delayed.

Management and Control Requirements for Ships
Except where expressly provided otherwise, the discharge of ballast water shall only be conducted through ballast water management, in accordance with the provisions of the convention.

Ships are required to have on board and implement a Ballast Water Management Plan specific to each ship with a detailed description of the actions to be taken to implement the ballast water management requirements and supplemental ballast water management practices. New vessels will have to be fitted with equipment for treating ballast water after 2009 and all ships will have to be fitted from 2016. For instance, ships constructed before 2009 with a ballast water capacity of between 1,500 and 5,000 cubic metres must conduct ballast water management that at least meets the ballast water exchange standards or the ballast water performance standards until 2014, after which time they shall at least meet the ballast water performance standard.

Ships must also have a Ballast Water Record Book to record when ballast water is taken on board, circulated or treated for ballast water management purposes and discharged into the sea, or discharged to a reception facility. The book should also record accidental or other exceptional discharges of ballast water.

Other methods of ballast water management may also be accepted as alternatives to the ballast water exchange standard and ballast water performance standard, provided that such methods ensure at least the same level of protection to the environment, human health, property or resources and are approved in principle by the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).

All ships using ballast water exchange should, whenever possible, conduct ballast water exchange at least 200 nautical miles from the nearest land and in water at least 200 metres in depth, taking into account guidelines developed by the IMO. If the ship is unable to proceed as above, ballast water exchange should be as far from the nearest land as possible, and in all cases at least 50 nautical miles from the nearest land and in water at least 200 metres in depth. When these requirements can not be met areas may be designated where ships can conduct ballast water exchange. All ships shall remove and dispose of sediments from spaces designated to carry ballast water in accordance with the provisions of the ship’s ballast water management plan.

Standards for Ballast Water Management
The convention provides for a ballast water exchange standard and a ballast water performance standard. Ballast water exchange could be used to meet the performance standard. Ships performing ballast water exchange shall do so with an efficiency of 95 per cent volumetric exchange of ballast water. For ships exchanging ballast water by the pumping-through method, pumping through three times the volume of each ballast water tank shall be considered to meet the standard described. Pumping through less than three times the volume may be accepted provided the ship can demonstrate that at least 95 per cent volumetric exchange is met.

Ships conducting ballast water management shall discharge less than 10 viable organisms per cubic metre greater than or equal to 50 micrometres in minimum dimension and less than 10 viable organisms per millilitre less than 50 micrometres in minimum dimension and greater than or equal to 10 micrometres in minimum dimension; and discharge of the indicator microbes shall not exceed the specified concentrations.

Ballast water management systems must be approved by the Administration in accordance with IMO guidelines that include systems which make use of chemicals or biocides, organisms or biological mechanisms or which alter the chemical or physical characteristics of the ballast water.

Prototype technologies
Ships participating in a programme approved by the Administration to test and evaluate promising ballast water treatment technologies have a leeway of five years before having to comply with the requirements of the convention.

The convention makes reference to ballast water exchange standards and ballast water performance standards. This has been done to allow and encourage the continued development of ballast water treatment technologies. As alternatives to ballast water exchange are developed, these may be approved by the IMO administration and incorporated into vessels’ ballast water management plan without requiring any amendment to the convention.

It should also be remembered that ballast water exchange may influence the stability and structural strength of vessels, as tanks have to be emptied during the sea passage (unless the so-called “pumping through” method is used).

Nevertheless, the Ballast Convention must be regarded as a positive development.

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Gard News is published quarterly by Gard AS, Arendal, Norway.