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Wanted: undead or alive

Fri 28 Aug 2015 by Paul Gunton

Wanted: undead or alive

It was a statement that goes to the heart of the difference between IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention (BWMC) and the USCG standards:  “we are not aware of a reliable method to detect viability.”

It was made earlier this month to BWTT by Allegra Cangelosi, senior policy analyst for environmental projects and director of the Great Ships Initiative (GSI) at the Northeast-Midwest Institute in the USA. She was responding to our request for clarification about the findings of an impressive report into land-based tests carried out at its testing facility into Japan’s JFE BallastAce BWMS. Our online news item earlier this month includes a link to that thorough report.

As is well known, IMO’s discharge standard counts “viable organisms” in various size ranges in various volumes of water, while the US Coast Guard (USCG) focuses on whether organisms are living. If, as GSI suggests, there is no way of testing whether an organism, though alive, is not viable – the undead, as I call them – then it is hard to see how the BWMC can be enforced. And, so far, no system is available that has been type-approved to the USCG standard. The reality, though, is that the US standard – being the more rigorous – must prevail.

In June, the industry body Bimco published a well-argued discussion document about the current situation (which can be read here). It made this important point: “Bringing the IMO Ballast Water Convention into force before US type-approved treatment systems are available would put shipowners in an untenable position as they would be required to first fit an IMO type approved system, only to soon after potentially be required to fit a US type approved system, when it becomes available.”

Elsewhere in its discussion, Bimco predicted that the BWMC will achieve sufficient ratifications to reach 35 per cent of world tonnage by the end of this year and come into force during 2016. It listed five countries – Argentina, Indonesia, Philippines, Belgium and Finland – that are moving towards ratification and would, together, add more than 2 per cent towards the 2.14 per cent still needed.

As we reported on this website earlier this month, Fiji is also moving in that direction, while another Pacific nation, Tuvalu, set up an Invasive Species Committee in early August. These may be tiny maritime states but we are reaching a point where it may only need that second decimal place of tonnage to bring the global industry into line.

Or rather: not into line, because of the IMO vs US standards debate. I believe, however, that this is not a show-stopper. Once BWMC has entered into force, it can be amended – and not before; that’s how IMO conventions work.

Bimco is compiling a list of possible future amendments that it believes will make the BWMC more practicable for the industry. Other industry bodies are, no doubt, doing the same. I hope flag states are also keeping their own files on possible amendments and action them at the earliest opportunity. Only then can the undead be finally laid to rest.

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