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IMO has Ballast Water Eureka Moment

By Wendy Laursen 2015-03-17 22:56:42

Archimedes isn’t the only person to have had a Eureka moment in the bathtub. According to the ballast water invasive species documentary made by IMO and BBC Wildvision, one of the bosses of BP Shipping had a Eureka moment in his hot tub too.

Perhaps seeing the need to convince more people about the importance of the 2004 IMO Ballast Water Management Convention, the IMO documentary looks at how marine invasive species are “affecting our coasts and millions of lives around the world and the measures taken by the global community to fight against these alien stowaways.”

With MEPC68 looming in May, flag states and shipowners remain concerned about the details of the convention, and its imminent entry into force remains doubtful. 

The documentary’s Eureka moment is indicative of their concerns. It shows an executive from BP Shipping describing how, in a hot tub with his boss, his boss says that he doesn’t like the smell of chlorine and is looking at fitting an ozone system to his hot tub at home. 

They had just had a long, rather fruitless discussion on how to reduce the risk of invasive species in ballast tanks without needing to perform ballast water exchange at sea. Suddenly the boss made the connection between the hot tub and a ballast tank and embarked on a program to build a ballast water treatment system using ozone as a disinfecting agent.

The documentary states that Mark II of the system is being tested and a fully functioning system is expected to be ready in about a year’s time. That’s the catch. Even today, the industry is still immature, with both the treatment systems and the required regulations evolving. 

Will shipowners that act early and install treatment systems on their ships in good faith be penalized by being prosecuted if they don’t achieve, in practice, the discharge standards required by the convention? The answer is still a topic of discussion, over 10 years after the convention was drafted, and the discussion will continue at MEPC68.

A group of shipowner associations - ICS, BIMCO, Intertanko, Intercargo, InterManager, CLIA, IUMI, IMCA, Interferry, ITF and the Nautical Institute – have asked for clarification of the wording agreed at MEPC67: “That shipowners that have installed type approved ballast water management systems prior to the application of the revised Guidelines (G8) should not be penalized.”

The G8 guidelines outline the testing required for a ballast water treatment system’s type approval. They are under review, because they are not actually mandatory and also because they do not explicitly address issues such as whether a system will work in fresh water or cold water. Many of the systems that have already gained type approval were only documented to have met the required discharge standards in saline and brackish water, for example.

The organizations are not being hesitant about their commitment to environmental protection, but they note that over 30 issues have been raised about the G8 Guidelines, so it is a genuine concern that first generation systems may not reliably and consistently meet the requirements of a revised G8. The organizations state that even if there are occasions when a first generation system does not fully meet D2 standards, they are still likely to reduce the risk of invasive species – a situation preferable to not using a treatment system at all.

They therefore seek clarification that shipowners who have installed, maintained and correctly operated first generation systems will not have to replace them for the life of the ship. If the system is found not to have meet discharge standards, a port state should not detain the ship, fine or take criminal action against the shipowner or crew. Rather they should work with the shipowner to agree an appropriate discharge solution.

The video is an expression of hope: “Progress is being made, but its momentum must be maintained so that shipping can work in harmony with the environment.” MEPC68 is scheduled to start on May 11, and IMO will have the chance to further its progress by addressing the concerns of those who will actually have to pay to install treatment systems.

Note: the documentary is not actually new. It won the gold award in the category of “Best United Nations Feature” at 2007’s “Stories from the Field”, the third annual United Nations Documentary Film Festival.