Decisions made by IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee will affect how BWMC will work in practice
Finland’s ratification of IMO’s 2004 Ballast Water Management Convention (BWMC) in September last year not only ended a seven-year wait by IMO and system makers, it has also removed the obstacle to making what many from the shipowning side of the industry see as the much-needed amendments to the rules – especially those around type-approvals.
It may seem odd that more than 12 years after the convention text was agreed, it is only now that it is entering into force and coming into effect that the changes that almost all feel are necessary can begin to be formulated and discussed, but that is how IMO conventions operate. One observer commented to BWTT that IMO might reflect on the experience gained from BWMC’s journey to ratification when making future regulations or applying those already agreed in situations that require new and untried technologies to be at their core.
Developing ballast water treatment systems that meet the regulation has proved far more difficult than anticipated, so much so that the draft new G8 guidelines presented at the 70th meeting of IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 70) in October last year even contain requirements for systems not being able to operate satisfactorily under all conditions. This means that shipowners that have invested in systems in good faith may find that the money laid out will not protect them from penalties and delays when port state control officials deem the ship has not complied with the discharge standard demanded.
Shipowners have long argued that the type-approval process is severely flawed and allows systems to achieve certification even though they fail to operate effectively in practice. Despite there being an older IMO document – Resolution MEPC.174(58) of 2008 – that describes over 28 pages the type-approval process, the G8 guidelines are only guidelines and it is up to flag states to approve or reject the procedures adopted by testing facilities and type-approvers.
There is anecdotal evidence of systems achieving approval having completed the requisite number of successful tests only by virtue of the fact that multiple tests were performed and in many cases the success rate was less than 30 per cent. There are others who say that the guidelines are not applied consistently by flag states or type-approvers so a treatment system may be accepted by one and rejected by another. Shipowners planning installations are usually only interested in knowing that a system is type-approved by their flag state and are unaware of what occurred during the type-approval process.
The draft G8 guidelines presented at MEPC 70 were adopted and have been circulated as Resolution MEPC.279(70). This is a much more detailed document than the previous G8 guidelines, with the key elements expanded by about 50 per cent. The revision to the guidelines updates the approval procedures for treatment systems and includes more robust test and performance specifications along with more detailed requirements for type-approval reporting and control and monitoring equipment.
It was also agreed that the approval process should be made mandatory and IMO plans to issue it as a code for approval of ballast water management systems. To do that will require an amendment to the convention’s wording which the secretariat is now preparing in time to be ready to implement in September when the convention enters into force.
The meeting recommended applying the revised guideline as soon as possible and agreed that systems installed on ships on or after 28 October 2020 should be approved taking into account the revised guidelines. Systems installed prior to that date could be approved using either the existing guidelines or revised guidelines.
Following on from the decisions taken at MEPC70, the sub-committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) held its fourth meeting in early February. There were several points around ballast water treatment considered there including one on the lack of an approved standard for sampling ports for treatment systems.
The paper presented as PPR4/6 pointed out that there are now around 4,000 treatment systems installed on ships, noting that there are “many variations of ballast water sampling ports that may not comply with the Guidelines G2, are not aligned with port state control methods, may compromise the watertight integrity of the ship, or could likely result in false positive and false negative results due to sampling port contamination.”
A solution was proposed in the paper but the meeting was short of time and further discussion was held over until the next meeting of the sub-committee (PPR 5) early next year.