Keeping ballast in check

A brief guide to ballast water compliance

The Ballast Water Management Convention has increased pressure on shipowners to ensure responsible handling of ballast water. Moreover, changes are on the horizon as USCG regulations are being harmonized. So what exactly should shipowners and operators be looking out for?

The Ballast Water Management Convention was adopted in 2004 and entered into force in 2017 in order to prevent the transfer of invasive species. The regulation introduced new guidelines for handling ballast water. The governing body behind the BWM Convention is the International Maritime Organization (IMO) who have introduced 17 guidelines for ballast water management. While the US may not be a signatory to the BWMC, the US Coast Guard (USCG) presently has its own regulations for ballast water that are much stricter. The industry is well underway with integrating the guidelines from both the IMO and USCG into their daily practices, such as by installing ballast water management systems on board ships. But how do these authorities check that vessels are compliant?

Documentation is vital

As part of the convention, ships are required to be surveyed and certified. Certificates and documentation are absolutely vital for ship operators to prove compliance. Certification and papers include proof that equipment is type-approved and installed properly and a Ballast Water Record Book where all activities for ballast water management are recorded. Governing bodies and state control officers at ports are allowed to inspect the Ballast Water Record Book and other documentation. If they have concerns, they may carry out further inspections. In addition to documentation, authorities will verify that a vessel has the required equipment on board such as a ballast water management system. At present, there are no tools that can be used to quickly test ballast water on board. Therefore, laboratories should be consulted.

 

Why should ship operators be concerned?

Should a vessel fail to comply to the updated regulations, they will likely incur penalties from the IMO or USCG. While a first-time offender may simply receive a warning from authorities, it is common for ships with poor practices to receive monetary fines. In extreme cases, port captains may restrict the vessels movement or cargo operations. This could lead to huge costs if a vessel must remain in port or experiences delays with cargo delivery. There is also a possibility of increasing how often a vessel must undergo examinations.

It pays to comply

To avoid penalties from authorities, it makes sense for shipowners and operators to invest in type-approved equipment and ensure a vessel is up to date with all important documentation. In addition, shipping companies should aim to continually assess how effectively equipment operates in varied conditions while at sea, as this may produce different results in comparison with testing conditions on land.

If you have questions on this topic, take a look at our FAQ article on ballast water management for more detailed information. Also, keep an eye on our “In Focus” category to find out more on ballast water management and how you can ensure compliance with tightening regulations.

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