A key international measure for environmental protection that aims to stop the spread of potentially invasive aquatic species in ships’ ballast water enters into force today (8 September 2017).
The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM Convention) requires ships to manage their ballast water to remove, render harmless, or avoid the uptake or discharge of aquatic organisms and pathogens within ballast water and sediments.
The BWM Convention was adopted in 2004 by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for developing global standards for ship safety and security and for the protection of the marine environment and the atmosphere from any harmful impacts of shipping.
“This is a landmark step towards halting the spread of invasive aquatic species, which can cause havoc for local ecosystems, affect biodiversity and lead to substantial economic loss,” said IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim.
“The requirements which enter into force today mean that we are now addressing what has been recognized as one of the greatest threats to the ecological and the economic well-being of the planet. Invasive species are causing enormous damage to biodiversity and the valuable natural riches of the earth upon which we depend. Invasive species also cause direct and indirect health effects and the damage to the environment is often irreversible,” he said.
He added, “The entry into force of the Ballast Water Management Convention will not only minimize the risk of invasions by alien species via ballast water, it will also provide a global level playing field for international shipping, providing clear and robust standards for the management of ballast water on ships.”
Dealing with ballast water
Ballast water is routinely taken on by ships for stability and structural integrity. It can contain thousands of aquatic microbes, algae and animals, which are then carried across the world’s oceans and released into ecosystems where they are not native.
Untreated ballast water released at a ship’s destination could potentially introduce new invasive aquatic species. Expanded ship trade and traffic volume over the last few decades has increased the likelihood of invasive species being released. Hundreds of invasions have already taken place, sometimes with devastating consequences for the local ecosystem, economy and infrastructure.
The Ballast Water Management Convention requires all ships in international trade to manage their ballast water and sediments, according to a ship-specific ballast water management plan. All ships must carry a ballast water record book and an International Ballast Water Management Certificate.
All ships engaged in international trade are required to manage their ballast water so as to avoid the introduction of alien species into coastal areas, including exchanging their ballast water or treating it using an approved ballast water management system.
Initially, there will be two different standards, corresponding to these two options.
The D-1 standard requires ships to exchange their ballast water in open seas, away from coastal waters. Ideally, this means at least 200 nautical miles from land and in water at least 200 metres deep. By doing this, fewer organisms will survive and so ships will be less likely to introduce potentially harmful species when they release the ballast water.
D-2 is a performance standard which specifies the maximum amount of viable organisms allowed to be discharged, including specified indicator microbes harmful to human health.
New ships must meet the D-2 standard from today while existing ships must initially meet the D-1 standard. An implementation timetable for the D-2 standard has been agreed, based on the date of the ship's International Oil Pollution Prevention Certificate (IOPPC) renewal survey, which must be undertaken at least every five years.
Eventually, all ships will have to conform to the D-2 standard. For most ships, this involves installing special equipment.
IMO has been addressing the issue of invasive species in ships’ ballast water since the 1980s, when Member States experiencing particular problems brought their concerns to the attention of IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC). Guidelines to address the issue were adopted in 1991 and IMO then worked to develop the Ballast Water Management Convention, which was adopted in 2004.