There is a well-known political strategy which is almost universal, and is invoked when difficult choices have to be made. This is to “park” the problem and undertake an inquiry or a study which gives the impression that something is being done, and postpones indefinitely that difficult decision.

It was fervently hoped by industry organisations that the recent IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting would address some of the real and present problems that are already arising over the implementation of the Ballast Water Convention. The industry is well aware of the need to deal with the problems of alien species and pathogens being moved around the world in ships’ ballast and has been supportive of the convention. Many shipping companies are already spending huge sums in buying and fitting equipment which they believe, in good faith, will meet all the necessary criteria and has been type approved by the IMO.

But regrettably, they find that the “goalposts are being moved” as the science develops along with the equipment. Some are likely to find that the treatment equipment will not now meet the criteria, with governments varying the standards. It is worth, perhaps at this stage, recalling that when the BWM Convention first emerged, the equipment sector was still in an early stage of developing treatments which would provide effective solutions. Several years on and the equipment is still being developed and there is still no universal agreement on the criteria to be used by port state control for sampling ballast tanks. Equipment which was once believed to be promising, has been withdrawn .The “unknowns”, rather than being eliminated, appear to be increasing.

These are real and practical difficulties which BIMCO, along with its fellow shipping organisation members, brought to IMO in time for the 66th Session of the MEPC. There are serious problems being faced by those operators who were anxious to implement the technology as early as possible, but are now finding doubts as to whether they have done the right thing, and whether their equipment will meet the criteria and actually work. Surely their good faith must be recognised, with the ability for their equipment to be “grandfathered” and allowed to operate as installed. This is hugely expensive equipment and cannot just be replaced at the stroke of a regulator’s pen?

It is acknowledged that all of this is a developing science, but the practicalities faced by ship operators in worldwide trading need to be addressed. So there is some considerable disappointment that at the MEPC meeting, governments failed to properly discuss these live issues which so badly needed some resolution. A study of the problem is to be undertaken, which is expected to require some three years before it is completed. The uncertainty, under which operators labour, will remain unresolved and the industry organisations will once again attempt to set out the realities of these very practical problems, in the hope they can be properly addressed at MEPC 67 in the Autumn.

Author: the Watchkeeper                    Source:  BIMCO.