Data from both the Paris MOU and USCG show large numbers of ships being found with problems over ballast management
Ships have been detained in Europe and the US because of deficiencies found in their ballast water management systems (BWMSs) and practices, an analysis by BWTT has found.
In mid-March, just over six months after IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention (BWMC) came into force, the Paris MOU secretariat’s online inspection database showed that between 8 September 2017 and 18 March (when the analysis was carried out), ballast treatment deficiencies had been found in 145 inspections on 144 ships, of which 15 had been detained.
Most of those detentions recorded the ballast deficiencies as among a number of ISM-related deficiencies, with ISM problems collectively listed as a ground for detention. But for two ships – their names can be found in the database – the ballast water deficiency itself was listed as a ground for detention so could, on its own, have justified those ships’ detentions.
Responding to the findings, Paris MOU secretary general Richard Schiferli said that a message he would like to get across to owners from the data is that the BWMC is in force and is being enforced by port state control inspectors.
Class society DNV GL published a similar analysis in March, covering the period from 8 September 2017 to the end of that year. It assessed the reasons for the deficiencies and found that about a third were for incorrect, not properly filled in or missing entries in the BWM record book, or the book itself was missing. Another 25% were the result of incorrect ballast water exchange: either it was not exchanged at all, or the amount of water exchanged was insufficient. Other deficiencies included BWM plans that had not been approved, were incorrect or missing.
In the US, ballast water management inspections have been taking place longer than in Europe. The 2017 US Coast Guard port state control report, published in April, included a comparison between 2017’s and 2016’s inspections. Between those years, ballast water management deficiencies recorded during USCG inspections increased from 110 in 2016 to 219 in 2017: a rise of 99.1%. Yet the number of inspections grew by just 1.9%.
Its report did not suggest any specific reason for the increase, but noted that most of the deficiencies were related to logs and records, alternate management systems, mandatory practices, ballast water management plans and the discharge of untreated ballast water into US waters.
As a result of the deficiencies, the USCG “imposed operational control restrictions on 17 vessels due to the severity of deficiencies,” the report said. These vessels “received sanctions ranging from warnings, Notices of Violations and Administrative Civil Penalty (Class I) actions for failure to implement BWM requirements,” it added.
It identified some common trends among the deficiencies, including a lack of familiarity and training regarding the use of a BWMS and problems over maintenance of the vessel’s BWM plan and implementation of its BWM strategy. “In some cases, the Coast Guard found that the BWMS was only used during voyages to the US and that crews received little or no training in operating and maintaining the system,” it said.
The report did not name any specific vessels, but one high-profile incident in January 2017 involved the bulk carrier Vega Mars, which faced civil penalty proceedings for an alleged infringement of ballast water discharge standards in Tacoma. The USCG said in a statement at the time that “ballast water was discharged from the vessel without the use of a Coast Guard-approved ballast water management system or other approved means” and details of the incident can be found on the USCG's searchable online database.
It said then that the vessel faced a maximum penalty of US$38,175 but no further statement was issued by the USCG about the penalty finally imposed. In reply to a question for this report in April 2018, a USCG Marine Investigation Division officer for Sector Puget Sound based in Seattle told BWTT that “Vega Mars was charged with one violation of the ballast water regulations, which was subsequently found proved. As a result, the hearing officer assessed a civil penalty of $6,000 against the vessel’s operating company.” He said there had been enforcement cases against two other vessels in 2017 for the same violation.
Installation delay solves ‘unworkable’ schedule, say flag states
Delaying installation deadlines for ballast water management systems to meet Regulation D-2 of IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention (BWMC) addressed what the chief commercial officer of the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry (LISCR) Alfonso Castillero described as an unworkable implementation schedule “given the availability of ballast water management systems (BWMSs).”
He told BWTT that the register was among the leaders in pushing for this extension, which was adopted during IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting in April (MEPC 72) after draft amendments were agreed at MEPC 71 in July 2017. He stressed that Liberia was one of the first administrations to ratify the convention “and is entirely committed to its effective and smooth implementation.” But he added that “the existence of important practical and technical considerations compelled it to seek the support of other stakeholders in securing an equitable implementation date for the convention.”
Other flag states contacted for this report also supported the change, including Australia, which was one of the first countries to highlight the risk of invasive species being moved around the globe in ballast water.
A spokesman for its Department of Agriculture and Water Resources agreed with the Liberian view, saying that the “slightly extended schedule” was realistic “in terms of ensuring the availability of BWMSs while providing certainty, in terms of timelines, for industry.”
The new installation schedule has not delayed implementation of the convention, pointed out the Isle of Man Ship Registry’s technical policy lead, Paul Grace. Ships will have to carry out ballast water exchange and meet the convention’s D-1 standard until their D-2 compliance date arrives, he said.
Although the Isle of Man does not have a vote at IMO, since it operates as part of the British Red Ensign Register, he supported the decision, which “has helped to provide clarity to shipowners, flag states and port states, and has removed the uncertainty that was in place prior to MEPC 71,” he said.
Great Lakes are ballast water battle grounds
Many US states have their own ballast water management rules that are different from federal requirements. The differences became important in November 2017 when both the House and Senate in one of the Great Lakes states, Michigan, voted to align their legislation with federal regulations.
But the state’s Republican governor Rick Snyder is a longstanding supporter of the state being “a leader on ballast water standards,” according to a statement on his website, and there were doubts that he would approve the bill.
His views were echoed by a Democrat senator, Rebekah Warren, who said that Michigan’s policy is similar to those of 13 other states. “Evidence has shown that these stronger standards have been effective in slowing, although not preventing, the spread of invasive species,” she said.
The counter-argument was along commercial lines, with Republican senator Triston Cole saying that Michigan’s more stringent requirements on ballast treatment discouraged ocean-going vessels from using the state’s Great Lakes ports.
Before the governor could sign the bill, the two versions – from House and Senate – had to be ‘enrolled’ into a single agreed text. At the time of writing in late April, that enrolled bill had not been published or approved.
Across the other side of the lakes is Canada, a signatory to IMO’s BWMC. One of the topics on the US Coast Guard’s online ‘Ballast Water FAQs’ addresses the difference between the two regimes, but stresses that both countries “support a strong, environmentally sustainable, Great Lakes economy.” It notes that USCG, the US Environmental Protection Agency and Transport Canada “maintain an ongoing dialogue to identify and resolve differences in their respective regulatory requirements.”
At the international level, senior communications advisor at Transport Canada, Annie Joannette, told BWTT that “Canada and the US continue to work closely bilaterally and at IMO towards compatible, practicable and environmentally protective ballast water requirements that reflect economic fairness.”