There have been several reports recently of fines issued in Ukraine for non-compliance with ballast water quality thresholds.
Ukraine borders the Black Sea and has special focus on the risk of introduction of foreign organisms by ballast water from ships. The Black Sea is a semi-enclosed sea as defined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and is a special area under MARPOL. The Black Sea has a history of introduction of organisms such as jellyfish through ballast water, and more restrictive routines for ballast water management are in place in this area than in larger and more open oceans. The control of compliance with these regulations is also stricter in the Ukraine than in most other countries.
The State Inspection for Protection of the Black Sea (SIPBS) performs sampling of ballast water from ships entering Ukrainian ports and tests the water quality for three different parameters: iron content, suspended organic material and oil products. The threshold levels for these parameters are low and difficult to comply with. The level of organic material allowed is about twice the amount commonly found in the North Sea and far below what is found during normal algal blooms. A second, higher, permissible level of organic material may apply, in the range of what can be found during an algal bloom, This limit is only applicable when ballast has been taken under certain conditions in specific areas inside of the Black Sea system.
Fines of up to USD 60,000 have been reported for breaches of Ukrainian ballast water regulations. Vessels may have the option to proceed outside a 12-mile zone to exchange their ballast water if one of the parameters of the ballast water tests is outside the permissible range. This is not a practical option in most cases given the time constraints of trading vessels. Vessels’ own test results from independent laboratories showing permissible levels of the three test parameters have not been accepted as evidence against the high fines.
Avoid the fines
The strict control of ballast water quality is a challenge for shipowners trading in Ukrainian ports, and particular attention should be given to the ballast water procedures when entering Ukraine. Good routines such as maintenance of the tanks, attention to where the ballast is taken, good draining of the tanks when emptied and good sampling routines when the inspectors are on board may prevent considerable fines.
Sample 1 taken at the top of the tank through sounding pipe. Sample 2 taken in the lower part of the tank out of a sampling pipe near the ballast pump after running the pump for one minute.
When the SIPBS inspectors come on board, designated ship personnel should attend and assist with the sampling in order to obtain as clean samples as possible. Shipowners may also consider having Gard’s correspondents present. Ballast water in the vessel’s tanks is not a homogenous mass, and the sampling point may be crucial in order to obtain a sample within the permissible limits. The samples must be taken through the manhole on deck, and not through pipe flanges or the water outlet where rust and particles may have accumulated. The level of iron allowed in the ballast water will be easily exceeded if rust particles are present in the sample. The inside of pipelines exposed to sea water will also give rise to fouling that may badly affect the water samples.
Samples should be taken in the upper part of the ballast tank, but not at the surface. Organic material present in the ballast water when loaded will sink in the tanks. Therefore the water near the bottom of the tank will have a higher content of organic material and in order to get a clean sample the lower part of the tank should be avoided. On the other hand, oily products will float on the water surface, and the samples should be taken well below the surface in order to avoid such products. The threshold level of oily products in the ballast water is 50 ppb: this basically means no oil should be present in the ballast water tanks. The MARPOL standard for outlets from the oily water separator is 300 times higher. As oily products accumulate at the water surface, the proportion of oil in a surface sample will be at high risk to exceed the threshold if any oil at all is present in the tank. Even the tank paint may sweat oily products that can create problems if surface samples are taken.
Near-bottom samples may appear clear inside the bottle, but when filtered the difference is obvious.
The equipment used to take the samples must be clean and likewise the storage bottles. The samples must be analysed as soon as possible and kept cool in the dark until analysis. Preferably some sort of fixative to prevent further microbial activity should be added, but the inspectors will have their own routines and the vessel’s crew will not be in a position to influence this. Expert groups are currently working on guidelines for sampling of ballast water that eventually will be adopted by IMO, but for the time being the local authorities and inspectors will choose their own procedures.
On one occasion Gard’s correspondents successfully objected to the result of a survey, where the ballast water samples taken by the inspectors were not permissible, Parallel samples were tested by an independent certified laboratory and the independent tests were found to be within the parameter range permitted. It may therefore be prudent to have a surveyor present to take samples jointly with the SIPBS. These samples may serve to document possible laboratory errors. However, if the inspectors’ samples are found out of range and these can not be proven wrong, high fines will be imposed on the vessel. In theory it is possible to object to such fines by application to the court, but it is understood that, pending judgment, security in the form of a bank guarantee, or even a cash deposit, will have to be posted. However, in practice all such objections have been unsuccessful, as in all cases the courts have supported the state inspectors’ decision.
Good sampling procedures are only one issue to address to avoid problems. Good maintenance of the tanks to avoid accumulation of rust and dirt is another important point of attention. Rust in the tanks will obviously increase the iron content of the samples but also particles such as flakes of rust or paint will stimulate the fouling process in the tank. Microbes in water like it when they can attach to some sort of solid surface. Good draining and cleaning of the tanks is necessary to remove such particles and remains of settled material from previous ballast water. Settled material is “fluffy” and easily redistributed up in the tank if disturbed. If such accumulated material is collected in the samples of the SIPBS, the organic content will easily be too high.
Local regulations and IMO guidelines
Local regulations require the exchange of ballast water in the Black Sea before going into port. When this is done, care should be taken not to perform the exchange with turbid water or in an area where algae are blooming. The water taken should appear clean and clear. The IMO guidelines (see box) provide more details on ballast water exchange procedures and provide good guidance to avoid out of range ballast samples.
IMO Resolution and Guidelines
The member countries of IMO have developed "Guidelines for the control and management of ships’ ballast water, to minimise the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens". These Guidelines were adopted by the IMO Assembly in 1997, by resolution A.868(20). They replace earlier, less comprehensive Guidelines adopted in 1993. Management and control measures recommended by the Guidelines include:
– Minimising the uptake of organisms during ballasting, by avoiding areas in ports where populations of harmful organisms are known to occur, in shallow water and in darkness, when bottom-dwelling organisms may rise in the water column.
– Cleaning ballast tanks and removing muds and sediments that accumulate in these tanks on a regular basis, which may harbour harmful organisms.
– Avoiding unnecessary discharge of ballast.
– Undertaking ballast water management procedures, including:
– Exchanging ballast water at sea, replacing it with ‘clean’ open ocean water. Any marine species taken on at the source port are less likely to survive in the open ocean, where environmental conditions are different from coastal and port waters.
– Non-release or minimal release of ballast water.
– Discharge to onshore reception and treatment facilities.
The guidelines can be found at http://globallast.imo.org/index.asp?page=resolution.htm&menu=true.
Gard News 187, November 2007/January 2008
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