The International Chamber of Shipping has called on the International Maritime Organization to address some critical issues concerning the imminent implementation of the IMO Ballast Water Management Convention.
Despite delays by governments with respect to ratification, the 2004 BWM Convention, which is intended to prevent damage to local ecosystems by invasive species of marine micro-organisms carried in ships ballast water, is expected to enter into force within the next 2 years.
ICS Director of Regulatory Affairs, David Tongue, explained: Shipping companies represented by our member national associations have serious concerns about the availability of suitable ballast water treatment equipment, the robustness of the type approval process and, above all, the difficulties of retrofitting tens of thousands of existing ships within the time frame established by the BWM Convention.
In an important submission to the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee, which meets in October, ICS has requested that the issue of fixed dates for the retrofitting of expensive new equipment by large numbers of ships, perhaps as many as 60,000, needs to be addressed urgently. ICS believes that a serious discussion is needed at IMO before the Convention enters into force.
In particular, in view of the bottlenecks that will be created when the Convention enters in force, with many ships having to be retrofitted either before their next special survey or their next intermediate survey, ICS has proposed that the IMO should modify the BWM Conventions requirements so that existing ships should not be required to be retrofitted with treatment equipment until their next full special survey. In view of the pressures on shipyards that will need to fit the equipment, this would smooth out implementation over a 5 year timeline around the date of entry into force of the Convention, rather than 2 or 3 years as at present.
Moreover, in order to make it possible for other ships to be retrofitted within the required timeline, ICS proposes that ships approaching their 4th special survey should be exempted from the equipment requirements.
Mr Tongue added: Given that the costs of fitting the treatment equipment may be in the order of 1 to 5 million dollars a ship, it does not make economic sense for older ships approaching the end of their lives to incur this huge expenditure. However, the impact on the environment of exempting them would be negligible since these ships will still be required to perform deep water ballast exchange at sea for the 2 or 3 remaining years that most of them will continue to operate.
In the event that IMO does not accept the suggestion that ships should not be required to retrofit until their next 5 year renewal survey, ICS suggests that ships over 18 years old should be exempted from the equipment requirements.
In practice, changes to the BWM Convention cannot be adopted until after it enters into force, but given the importance of ensuring smooth implementation ICS sees no reason why IMO cannot agree provisional changes with respect to detailed implementation in advance.
In a separate submission to IMO, ICS has requested that IMO considers modifying its current draft guidelines for type approval of equipment, and for ballast water sampling and analysis that will be used by port state control, so that as far as possible they are comparable with those recently adopted by the United States.
David Tongue commented: A large proportion of the fleet will have to comply with the US requirements which cannot be changed. For the sake of global uniformity we think it would be helpful if the relevant IMO Guidelines can be modified.
A most important consideration, according to ICS, is that the US standards for type approval of equipment, under its Environmental Verification Program, are far more robust than the IMO equivalent. Some of the equipment which has already been approved in line with original IMO standards has already had to be withdrawn because it has been demonstrated not to deliver the agreed IMO kill standard for removing unwanted marine micro-organisms.