Delegates attending this week’s marine environmental protection committee meeting at the International Maritime Organization have agreed to work on easing the installation bottleneck of ballast-water treatment systems.
A resolution is to be written, and hopefully agreed at the IMO assembly later this year, amending the requirement to install systems by a certain deadline, instead allowing vessels to have systems installed at their next scheduled drydock.
In many ways the problem is of the IMO’s own making.
Nearly 10 years ago it agreed the text of a ballast-water management convention with the aim of reducing the amount of organisms accidentally introduced into new habitats through ships’ ballast.
However, it did so without the technological means for this goal to be achieved. The result has been the slow ratification by IMO member states, and the rapid invention, development and approval testing of potential systems that owners can buy.
The ballast water convention is on the cusp of coming into force. After additional IMO member states representing about 6% of the world’s fleet have signed it, it will come into force a year later.
Once in force, a series of retrospective convention deadlines, for when ships need to have ballast discharges that are clear of organisms, will come into force.
Without this resolution to give shipowners more leeway with the installation of systems on their vessels, thousands of ships would need to have systems installed almost simultaneously.
This, say many experts, will create a challenge for system makers, drydocks, classification surveyors, and shipowners who face huge installation costs.
One problem that has stopped owners installing a system so far, apart from the huge costs, is doubt about how effectively the systems work.
Although an additional text is being agreed to prevent vessels being penalised by port states for a short period after the convention comes into force, there is concern over the way the systems have been put through the type approval process.
All systems to be sold to the industry need to be type-approved by an IMO flag administration.
However, the guidelines over this have been described as vague and weak by the industry, giving shipowners little confidence over the technology they will be forced to select.
During this week’s committee debate about easing the ballast water bottleneck, the IMO was accused of covering cracks in the convention from hell, given the problems it has created for the industry.
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