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Ballast Water

ballast water mosaic


Ballast water is essential for the safe operation of ships. It provides stability and manoeuvrability during a voyage and during loading and unloading operations. Management of Ballast Water also reduces the hull stress caused by adverse sea conditions or by changes in cargo weight as well as fuel and water. However, the process of loading and unloading untreated ballast water poses a major threat to the environment, public health and the economy as ships become a vector for the transfer of organisms between ecosystems, from one part of the world to another.

When ballast water is taken up in port many microscopic organisms and sediments are introduced into the ships ballast tanks. Many of these organisms are able to survive in these tanks, and, when ballast water is discharged, they are released into new environments. If suitable conditions exist in this release environment, these species will survive and reproduce and become invasive species. In some cases there is a high probability that the organism will become a dominant species, potentially resulting in: the extinction of native species, effects on local/regional biodiversity, effects on coastal industries that use water extraction, effects on public health and impacts on local economies based on fisheries.

Global action

Canada and Australia were among the first countries to experience particular problems with harmful aquatic species, and they brought their concerns to the attention of IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC). Finally after many years of negotiations, the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments (Ballast Water Management Convention) was eventually adopted by an IMO Diplomatic Conference in February 2004.

On 8th September 2016 the ratification requirements of this Convention were met and it will enter into force on the 8th September 2017. The Convention requires existing vessels to apply ballast water exchange until the renewal of their IOPP Certificate, after which they must meet strict ballast water quality standards.

EU action

At present there is no direct EU Law on Ballast Water, however Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014 on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species recognises the BWM Convention as one of the possible management measures for invasive species of concern. The level of Invasive Alien Species and their environmental impact is also one of the many descriptors for assessing Good Environmental Status under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

EMSA's role

EMSA has completed a 14 point Action programme to help the EU Member States implement the BWM Convention and contribute to the advanced work being undertaken on this issue in the Regional Sea Committees around Europe. EMSA continue to provide the EC and the MS with technical support on this issue when requested.

EMSA recent involvement

EMSA monitors and examines international, regional and sub-regional developments in this field in order to enable the Member States and the Commission to identify any need for further action at EU-level to:

- promote the effective management of ballast water on board ships in European waters; and,

- to ensure a coherent approach within different European regions.

In November 2008, EMSA organised a workshop to identify how the EU Member States, the European Commission and EMSA can work together to provide a cohesive approach in implementing the ballast water management strategies of the regional fora and ratifying the Ballast Water Management Convention. This workshop resulted in the development of a Ballast Water Action Programme to help Member States ratify the Convention and develop interim Strategies through the four Regional Seas Conventions around Europe.

In February 2010, EMSA held a Workshop on Sampling for Enforcement. At that Workshop the need to develop guidance on 11 issues concerning sampling for enforcement were identified. Following the development of this guidance, IMO requested that EMSA, through the EC, submit their work on this issue to BLG 15 and a workshop was held to in January 2011 to present the findings of the research to the MS and explain how the guidance has been developed.

Following the submission of these papers, EMSA led (on behalf of the European Commission) the IMO Correspondence Group on Ballast Water Sampling, and in conjunction with the Paris MOU developed PSC guidance for the Ballast Water Convention. This was subsequently submitted to IMO and, after discussion and slight amendment, was adopted as IMO PSC Guidance

EMSA has also commissioned additional research into the development of a sampling protocol and identifying a threshold for "gross non-compliance" for the enforcement of the BWM Convention. This work was submitted as an information paper to IMO BLG 17.

EMSA in conjunction with DG ENV and DG MOVE has also produced a factsheet on the relationship between the new EC Biocide Regulations and the type approval requirements for systems using active substances the G-9 Guidelines at IMO under the BWM Convention.

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