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20 February 2004, 11:49 am
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International Regulations - IMO

ISAF was represented at IMO recently when a new convention to prevent the potentially devastating effects of the spread of harmful aquatic organisms carried by ships' ballast water was adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
IMO is the United Nations agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution from ships.


The problem of invasive species is largely due to the expanded trade and traffic volume over the last few decades. The effects in many areas of the world have been devastating. Quantitative data show the rate of bio-invasions is continuing to increase at an alarming rate, and new areas are being invaded all the time. Volumes of seaborne trade continue overall to increase and the problem may not yet have reached its peak.

Specific examples include; the introduction of the European zebra mussel in the Great Lakes between Canada and the United States, resulting in expenses of billions of dollars for pollution control, and cleaning of fouled underwater structures and waterpipes; and the introduction of the American comb jelly to the Black and Azov Seas, causing the near extinction of anchovy and sprat fisheries.

The problem of harmful aquatic organisms in ballast water was first raised at IMO in 1988 and since then IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), together with the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) and technical sub-committees, have been dealing with the issue, focusing in the past decade first on guidelines and then on developing the new convention.

The Convention

The Convention will require all ships that carry Ballast Water to control trim, list, draught, stability or stresses, to implement a Ballast Water and Sediments Management Plan. All ships will have to carry a Ballast Water Record Book and will be required to carry out ballast water management procedures to a given standard. Existing ships will be required to do the same, but after a phase-in period ending in 2009.

States that are Party to the Convention are given the option to take additional measures, which are subject to criteria set out in the Convention and to IMO guidelines yet to be developed.

The Convention will enter into force 12 months after ratification by 30 States, representing 35 per cent of world merchant shipping tonnage.

Regulation A-2 of the Convention (General Applicability) provides. "Except where expressly provided otherwise, the discharge of Ballast Water shall only be conducted through Ballast Water Management, in accordance with the provisions of this Annex." The Convention does not apply to Ballast Water in sealed tanks which is not subject discharge.

There are special provisions for pleasure yachts used solely for recreation, competition, or craft used primarily for search and rescue, which are less than 50 metres in length and with a maximum Ballast Water capacity of 8 cubic metres. Equivalent compliance by these vessels will be determined by Administrations in accordance with Guidelines developed by IMO.

The specific requirements for ballast water management by non-pleasure yachts are contained in regulation B-3 Ballast Water Management for Ships and depend on the date of the ships construction. Ballast Water Management can take the form of the Exchange of Ballast water at specified distances from land and in water of specified depth or of treatment, which can be mechanical or chemical to specified standards approved by Administrations.

Most ships of gross tonnage of 400 tons and above are required to be surveyed and certified and may be inspected by port State control officers for compliance with the Convention and the regulations. All possible efforts shall be made to avoid a ship being unduly detained or delayed, They are required to have on board and implement a Ballast Water Management Plan which is specific to each ship and includes a detailed description of the actions to be taken to implement the Ballast Water Management requirements and supplemental Ballast Water Management practices. They must have a Ballast Water Record Book to record when ballast water is taken on board; circulated or treated for Ballast Water Management purposes; and discharged into the sea.
The interventions by ISAF over the years has resulted in a regime which will be considerably less demanding than that which applies to other vessels.

ISAF is preparing new draft guidelines for consideration by IMO and will invite comments from MNAs, yachtsmen, naval architects, yacht designers and interested individuals. These guidelines will be published within the next two weeks.
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