Ballast Water: Potential Discrimination on the Great Lakes

Canadian ship

By Wendy Laursen 2016-04-21 19:05:55

Stephen Brooks, President of the Chamber of Marine Commerce in Canada, believes ballast water management rules that are unachievable, impractical and discriminatory are being imposed by the U.S. EPA and the IMO on Canadian short sea ships that never leave the bi-national waters of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Waterway and thus cannot introduce new aquatic invasive species.  

The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for the approval of ballast water treatment technology for ships discharging ballast water in the U.S., and to date, has not approved any technology. However, the U.S. Coast Guard has acknowledged the unavailability of technology by issuing over 4,000 extensions to their ballast water rules. The EPA has not.

“It’s quite unfortunate that Canadian shipowners had to seek and obtain a ‘stay’ on the EPA’s rules in U.S. court in order to be able to continue serving the bi-national Great Lakes St. Lawrence Waterway economy, the third largest economy in the world if it was a separate country, which relies heavily on safe, efficient, environmentally smart short-sea shipping,” says Brooks.

U.S. Fleet Exempt

The EPA has exempted any ship that trades between Canadian domestic waters west of Anticosti Island (near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River) and into the Great Lakes, practically exempting the entire U.S.-flagged Great Lakes shipping fleet which operates entirely in the upper Great Lakes, while applying fully against much of the Canadian fleet which operates throughout the bi-national Great Lakes St. Lawrence Waterway.

The impact of this Anticosti Island demarcation, coupled with the additional EPA requirement for all new vessels built after 2009 to install treatment systems regardless of their transit routes, effectively results in at least 50 percent of the Canadian fleet being required to develop and install unavailable freshwater-based ballast water treatment technology, while the entire U.S. Great Lakes fleet is exempt, says Brooks.

Success of Salt Water Exchange

In 2006, Canada and the U.S. put in place mandatory salt water ballast exchange and inspections at Montreal which apply to all ships regardless of flag that seek entry into the bi-national Great Lakes from outside the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).  

However, virtually all Canadian flag ships operate short sea trades within the bi-national Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River and thus do not go outside the EEZ, thereby obviating the need for deep salt water ballast exchange or flushing. A Transport Canada Ballast Water Discussion Paper (October, 2012), states that Canadian vessels actually present little risk of transferring aquatic invasive species into U.S. or Canadian waters.

“When practical and safe to do so, Canadian vessels exchange or rinse ballast in deep areas within the Gulf of St. Lawrence before heading upbound to the Great Lakes,” says Brooks. 
“Since ballast water exchange and flushing became mandatory in 2006, no new aquatic invasive species has been discovered in the Great Lakes, and thus this has proved to be a very effective regime.”

No Viable Systems

Despite the success of ballast water exchange and flushing, Canadian shipowners are making significant investments and testing numerous systems in order to find ballast water treatment technology appropriate for their unique vessels and the uniquely cold, extremely fresh waters of the Great Lakes. Canadian shipowners recently created a technology fund and are currently involved in technology assessment in cooperation with the National Research Council.  

The technology approved internationally for ships transiting oceans has yet to prove effective in the cold, fresh water of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Waterway and the unique operating challenges of North American domestic short-sea shipping, says Brooks.

“However, to date no viable systems have been found, evidenced by the fact that the U.S. Coast Guard still has not approved any ballast water treatment systems for vessels plying the Great Lakes,” says Brooks. It has taken a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that technology does not exist and the court’s issuance of a stay of the EPA’s requirement to install such untested, unproven and unavailable technologies in Canadian ships for shipping operations to be able to continue, he says.

UV has Potential

“UV systems might potentially work in the Great Lakes. However obtaining the power needed to operate them is a major challenge, especially for self-unloading vessels which need the installed power to operate unloading equipment,” says Brooks. 

“Also quite importantly, the U.S. Coast Guard has ruled that UV systems are not qualified as they do not kill organisms per se, but rather only render them non-viable. This is unfortunate as a third of current worldwide installations of IMO approved equipment installed on existing vessels are UV systems which otherwise might bode well for regions like the Great Lakes that are seeking practical solutions.”

Confidence Shaken

Besides the impossible situation in which the U.S. EPA has put Canadian shipowners and all industries reliant on Great Lakes St. Lawrence Waterway shipping, Canada as a signatory to the IMO’s Ballast Water Convention which demands a similar non-attainable freshwater standard, is also now considering adopting similar requirements in the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Waterway, says Brooks.

“Confidence in the industry has been shaken, reverberating through the $35-billion economy including steel manufacturing, agriculture, construction, energy and mining, directly dependent on Great Lakes St. Lawrence Waterway marine commerce.”

The Solution

The Chamber of Marine Commerce has outlined what it sees as the solution: 

1. Canada must commit to science, environmental impact and realistic timelines as the key drivers in the development of new Great Lakes St. Lawrence Waterway ballast water regulations.

2. Acknowledging the lack of ballast water treatment technology for the bi-national Great Lakes St. Lawrence Waterway and the extremely low risk presented by domestic shipping which cannot introduce aquatic invasive species, Canada must put in place an exemption regime for domestic ships similar to the U.S. Coast Guard’s.

3. Canadian and U.S. carriers should be treated equitably and fairly by ensuring regulations are harmonized (or reciprocally recognized).

“We remain hopeful that, despite the fact that Canadian shipowners and other shipowners operating in the Great Lakes are currently unable to meet the IMO standards, a practicable, cost-effective solution to this conundrum will soon be found,” says Brooks.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.