Ballast Water: The Boy Who Cried Wolf

ballast water

By MarEx 2016-05-23 21:13:46

Like the story about the boy who cried wolf, the shipping industry has been told several times that the entry into force of the Ballast Water Convention is ‘imminent,’ says the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) in its newly published 2016 Annual Review.

This included a false alarm during the IMO Assembly, in November 2015, when it was prematurely announced that the required 35 percent of world tonnage threshold had been reached following ratification by Indonesia. But with the ratification of Belgium in March 2016 (bringing the total tonnage covered, at 34.82 percent, to within a slither of the threshold) it is currently assumed that the Convention will almost certainly cross the line during 2016 and enter into force during 2017.

“The Convention’s entry into force will present ship operators with a serious challenge because of the expected lack of ship yard capacity needed to retrofit the expensive new treatment equipment (over a five year period) on around 70,000 ships,” states the ICS. “The situation has been made worse by recent decisions taken by the United States which, ironically, is not a Party to the Ballast Water Management Convention. The U.S. has unilaterally adopted its own ballast water regulations with which ships trading to the U.S. must comply.

“The main reason why governments have been so reluctant to ratify the Convention has been due to a lack of confidence in the IMO type-approval process and whether, among many other technical questions, the treatment equipment approved in line with current IMO Guidelines would actually work to the satisfaction of Port State Control authorities. Most shipowners have understandably been unwilling to invest millions of dollars per ship until there is certainty that the equipment installed will not have to be completely replaced within a matter of years.”

Following a major industry campaign led by ICS, IMO has agreed to a road map in order to address these concerns. This included an MEPC Resolution, adopted in 2014, to serve as a gentlemen’s agreement by IMO Member States, outlining various actions that will be taken by governments with respect to the Convention’s implementation as soon as it enters into force. 

“Central to this will be the completion of the revision of the G8 type-approval guidelines, scheduled for adoption by IMO in October 2016, plus an agreement that shipowners that have already installed type-approved equipment in accordance with the original IMO Guidelines will not be penalized (although the United States has unhelpfully reserved its position on this part of the package).”

The eventual entry into force of the Convention, after so many years of delay, should at least give shipowners some of the certainty needed to make important decisions about whether to refit the new mandatory treatment equipment or, because of the prohibitive cost, send older ships for early recycling, states ICS. But the entry into force of the new IMO regime will not resolve the extreme difficulties that exist for shipowners trading to the United States. There is still great uncertainty with respect to the more stringent U.S. approval regime for treatment equipment, which started being enforced in January 2014.

Throughout 2016, ICS will be working with IMO Member States in order to impress upon the United States the importance of coming to a pragmatic solution. Otherwise, once the IMO Convention finally enters into force, the shipping industry will be faced with chaos.

Other topics discussed in the review include: 

•    ICS efforts to deliver further CO2 emissions reductions from the sector in response to the Paris Agreement on climate change; 
•    the status of IMO environmental regulations on low sulfur fuel; 
•    the impact of the rescue at sea crisis in the Mediterranean, and the serious economic crisis currently confronting many shipping sectors and trades.  

ICS Chairman, Masamichi Morooka, observes: “The authority of IMO continues to be challenged by unilateral rules, principally those emanating from the European Union and the United States. This is making the maintenance of an effective global regulatory framework increasingly complicated. The IMO global regime cannot and must not be taken for granted.”

The review has been published in advance of the ICS Annual General Meeting, to be held in Tokyo from 1-3 June.  This will be the final ICS AGM under the chairmanship of Masamichi Morooka (Japan), who will be stepping down after four years in office.

The review is available here.