As readers will probably know from Gard's Circular No. 9/99, with effect from 1st January 2000 the State of California has enacted a ballast water control and management programme that requires all vessels of more than 300 GT carrying ballast water into California waters after operating outside the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), to either:
(1) exchange ballast water outside the EEZ, in an area not less than 200 nautical miles from any shore, and in waters more than 2,000 metres deep, before entering the waters of the State;
(2) retain the ballast water on board the vessel;
(3) use an alternative environmentally sound method of ballast water management that has been approved by the State Lands Commission before the vessel begins the voyage, and that is at least as effective as ballast water exchange in removing or killing non-indigenous species;
(4) discharge ballast water to an approved reception facility;
(5) under extraordinary conditions, conduct a ballast water exchange within an area agreed to by the State Lands Commission at the time of the request.
California has enacted a ballast water control and management programme.
A vessel is exempted from complying with the programme's requirements if the Master, operator or other person in charge of the vessel determines that such compliance would threaten the safety of the vessel, her crew or her passengers because of bad weather, the design limitations of the vessel, equipment failure or any other extraordinary conditions. The interpretation which the local courts will place on such exemptions has yet to be seen.
In view of the lack of "approved reception facilities" ashore and the as yet unproven methods for on board treatment, it is thought that most vessels will have little option but to comply with the regulations by exchanging ballast water on the high seas, subject to the above exemption.
However, a new equipment with the potential of becoming a more practical solution to this problem may shortly come on the market. The objective of such equipment is to remove particles, harmful bacteria and non-indigenous marine species from the ballast water. Reducing sediments and cutting costs of ballast treatment and operation is also a goal.
The idea is to pump the ballast water through a centrifugal vortex separator where the heavier particles are being separated out and led back into their original environment. What is left is pure water which shall then be treated with ultra-violet beams which, according to scientific tests, kill or inactivate as much as 100 per cent of certain plankton and bacteria.
It remains to be seen whether the manufacturer can convince authorities of the effectiveness of this equipment. From an ecological perspective, and thereby also from a P&I perspective, this seems to be a good idea, worth testing out in real life. In that connection it appears that the manufacturer will install the equipment in some cruise vessels in the near future.
Lastly, although California is probably the richest State within the US, the regulations introduce a "user fee" of USD 600 per vessel per voyage. This is payable by the shipowner. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued by the California State Lands Commission stated that the user fee would be used to support the programmes introduced by the regulations and would ensure that the State incurred no costs in implementing and enforcing them.