Ballast Water Management – 2016 and Beyond

5 January 2017


Simon Bonnett, Safety & Technical Manager (London) outlines the status of ballast water management regulations, problems facing owners and operators, and the need for responsive flag administrations 

The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (the “Convention”) enters into force on 8 September 2017. The implementation schedule for the D-2 standard, in regulation B-3, has been relaxed by International Maritime Organization (IMO) Resolution A.1088(28). This resolution is an agreement among Parties not to enforce the legal text of the Convention set out in the current regulation B-3, and instead to apply a schedule outlined in Table 1 below. The agreement also commits to an amendment to regulation B-3. The proposal will be circulated once the Convention enters into force and the process to amend the Convention will take approximately two years from September 2017, giving time for any party to object to any changes should they wish to do so. No parties are expected to object, since they have already committed to IMO Resolution A.1088(28). The United States (US) is not a party to the Convention and has its own unilateral Ballast Water Management (BWM) system (BWMS) installation requirements based upon a vessel’s drydocking schedule; but, has adopted the Convention D-2 discharge standard.

Industry groups have brought to the attention of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) 70 the great difficulty shipowners finds themselves in when they want to purchase a reliable Ballast Water Management (BWM) system (BWMS) that can consistently meet the requirements of the D-2 discharge standard. Even though there are many BWMSs approved by the IMO’s Member States, there are currently only three BWMSs which the United States (US) Coast Guard (USCG) has recently Type Approved. One application for USCG Type Approval is under review and approximately 16 additional systems are undergoing testing by independent laboratories (ILs) for eventual application for Type Approval, but there is no time estimate as to when this may occur. Consequently, it will continue to be difficult to purchase a system which can work under the IMO regulatory regime as well as the USCG’s until there are sufficient USCG Type Approved systems available from manufacturers; however, the US does allow alternatives until such time as appropriate systems are available.

The IMO has gone to great lengths to improve the guidelines (G8) for Type Approval, and revised guidelines were adopted on 28 October 2016 in the hope that this will lead to more reliable treatment systems more likely to receive USCG Type Approval. With this in mind, and with the likelihood that improved systems will be tested in the near future, a number of industry associations and IMO Member States pushed for a further relaxation in the schedule to implement the D-2 discharge standard (Table 1). Consensus on this revised schedule was not achieved at MEPC 70 and a proposal was forwarded to MEPC 71 for further consideration, though is not expected until early July 2017. The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) was one of the parties interested in supporting the alternative schedule. However, at this time all ship operators must consider the Resolution A.1088(28) as the only agreed proposal.

If ships are going to conduct an early IOPP renewal, then this needs to be done well in advance of the 7 September 2017 deadline.

It is expected that many shipowners who have the International Oil Pollution Prevention (IOPP) renewal survey occurring within the first few years after entry into force will decide to complete the survey prior to 8 September 2017. This will allow owners to wait and see if systems that are both IMO revised G8 and USCG Type Approved come to market. If ships are going to conduct an early IOPP renewal, this needs to be done well in advance of the 7 September 2017 deadline as the renewal date will be the last day the surveyor attended the ship. Unavailability of surveyors or time over runs will be no reason to alter this.

Indeed, for some owners the cost of modifying their ships to be able to install a BWMS will be so high that their vessels will surely go to scrap. Fortunate owners may enter into trades which avoid the BWM regimes of the US and IMO. For example, a ship which operates within the waters of a single party, or between the high seas and a single party, is not subject to the Convention.   

Table 1 – Implementation of the D-2 Standard Based Around the IOPP Renewal Survey

BWMS have been fitted to several thousand ships and occurrences of unreliable BWMS operations are frequently recounted, including accounts of systems failing at first use and never working again. Lack of availability of service engineers has also been an issue for some shipowners.

Some owners who are early adopters of BWMS technology say their system functions just fine, so it appears it’s possible to find some reliable suppliers. But with so many variables for different ships, trades, and ports, it can be a very difficult task. As previously noted, it is still very difficult to find a USCG Type Approved system (to enable the important worldwide trade requirement need for most charters), which could be installed today and remain in place for the life of the ship. Given the previous non-availability of a USCG Type Approved system, the US has allowed ships to apply for an extension of the date to fit a BWMS until the next drydocking, or fit an Alternate Management System (AMS). An AMS is a foreign approved BWMS which has been accepted by the USCG for operation in the ship for a period of five years beyond the required BWMS installation date. If after the five years are up and the BWMS hasn’t received USCG Type Approval, then ship operators could potentially have to remove the system and replace it with a USCG Type Approved one. At the time of writing there are over 12,000 extensions for BWMS fitting granted by the USCG.  Even though there are now three USCG Type Approved systems, extensions will continue to be granted if a Type Approved system is not suitable for a given ship or not available given the potential high demand; but, the extension time period may vary. Existing granted extensions and the use of an existing installed or contracted AMS will not be affected by the availability of a US Type Approved system.

From 8 September 2017, the Convention will be enforced by flag administrations and coastal States alike. The IMO has agreed to the non-penalization of early movers. In principle, this means that a ship which installs a BWMS prior to the application of the revised G8 Guidelines, and maintains and operates it according to the manual, would not be detained, sanctioned, or criminalized for lack of efficacy by the system. Port State control (PSC) still has the option to restrict the vessel and prevent it from discharging unmanaged ballast if they feel doing so may bring harm to people, resources, or the environment. This latter option to restrict ballast discharge needs to be considered further if trade is not to be affected when a BWMS breaks down, or struggles with a particular load of ballast.

The IMO has agreed to the non-penalization of early movers. 

MEPC 71 is inviting submissions for contingency measures, or plans agreed between port States and flag administrations to enable a ship to discharge ballast which may not meet the D-2 standard, but has been sufficiently managed to reduce the risk of harm to people, resources, and the environment. One of the most effective contingency methods would be for port States to ensure there are alternative shipboard or land based reception/treatment facilities. If these are not available, then it could be a chemical treatment, or a specified location for ballast water exchange.

An experience-building phase is being considered by MEPC 71, for a limited non-penalization period that could be extended to all ships. All ships, flag administrations, and port States would be encouraged to gather data on the implementation of the Convention. This data would be collected and analyzed to review the effectiveness of BWMS, its guidelines, and the practicality of the Convention. If the analysis brings to light persistent issues, then the text of the Convention and its guidelines could be reviewed and amended as appropriate. Figure 2 gives an overview of this proposal.

Figure 2


One thing is for sure, if things start to go wrong with a BWMS, ship operators will need an interactive, responsive flag administration to advise and agree on next steps and contingency measures. Shipowners should be confident that the ship’s flag administration will quickly deal with their urgent needs when regulatory and commercial pressures are at their highest. Such support needs to be available 24/7.

With this in mind, the RMI Registry has placed resources in overlapping time zones, ensuring timely responses. Leading experts are already in place in Hong Kong, Piraeus, London, and Reston/Washington, DC. More expertise is being trained and the significant technical resources of the flag are always available to owners and operators from 27 offices worldwide.

Edit: This post was updated on 15 February 2017 to reflect the recent addition of one application for USCG Type Approval now under review, as well as to reflect the change in the number of additional systems undergoing testing by ILs for eventual application for Type Approval from 17 to 16.