Since the early 1980's the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has been investigating the spread of Harmful Aquatic Organisms through out the world. Many species have appeared in alien areas where they flourish without control from native species.
Examples are the spread of the Zebra Mussel in the Eastern part of the US and Japanese Weed in European Waters. Research has shown that Ballast water taken up in one ocean and discharged in another has been a major cause. 23 alien species have been found in the Black Sea which originate in Japan and other Pacific waters which have been carried in the ballast water taken up by Tankers and Bulk carriers. Research has also shown that even very small quantities of water can contain organisms which proliferate quickly when uncontrolled by other species found in the waters of origin.
The control of this problem is not easy and has occupied IMO for 16 years. It has resulted in the preliminary agreement to a Draft International Convention on the Control and Management of Ships Ballast Water and Sediments that will be presented for consideration by a diplomatic conference in February 2004.
The Convention applies to all ships, which-
are designed or constructed to carry Ballast Water, and
do not operate exclusively in the territorial waters of a party to the Convention.
There are exemptions for government owned ships used for non commercial purposes such as warships and some rescue vessels.
The definition of Ballast water is very important to the drafting of the Guidelines; it is "water with its suspended matter taken on board a ship to control trim, list draught, stability or stresses of a ship".
It would be very difficult for a yacht to comply with the detailed requirements of the Convention and ISAF have sought an exemption for all ships under 50 meters in length and carrying less than 8 metric tonnes of ballast water. A general exemption was not acceptable but it was agreed that yachts within those size parameters should have only to comply with simplified guidelines.
At subsequent meetings at IMO ships used solely for search and rescue purposes were joined with pleasure craft.
ISAF presented a paper to IMO which contained Draft Guidelines. It was apparent that many delegates did not understand the dynamics of sailing and would be assisted by a draft prepared with some knowledge thereof.
The guidelines have not yet been subjected to the normal IMO approval procedures, which will follow the Diplomatic Conference. In the meantime all Governments have been asked to send comments to ISAF. Any remarks from yachtsmen, ISAF MNAs, builders and others will be most welcome.