Uncertainties linger as Finland triggers BWM Convention

Päivi Luostarinen, permanent representative of Finland to IMO, hands the country's instrument of acceptance to Kitack Lim, secretary general, IMO Päivi Luostarinen, permanent representative of Finland to IMO, hands the country's instrument of acceptance to Kitack Lim, secretary general, IMO

The IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention will enter into force on 8 September 2017 after Finland acceded to the treaty on 8 September.

The accession tipped the global share of gross tonnage belonging to acceding states beyond the required 35%. Kitack Lim, secretary general of the IMO, said the convention “will not only minimise the risk of invasions by alien species via ballast water, it will also provide a global level playing field for international shipping, providing clear and robust standards for the management of ballast water on ships.”

But while the Finnish decision concludes a twelve-year ratification process, shipping organisations have flagged the remaining uncertainties facing ship operators as they select their systems – particularly the ongoing review of the convention’s G8 guidelines for type approval and the lack of clarity on type approvals by the US, which is not a party to the IMO treaty.

The review of G8 guidelines is examining, among other things, the possibility of more stringent type approval testing to ensure that approved systems are capable of operating in all conditions, including different water salinities, temperatures and flow rates. Changes to type approval certification and how to deal with installed systems type approved under earlier guidelines are also being discussed. Significant progress on these issues is expected at the 70th meeting of IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee later this year.

Lars Robert Pederson, deputy secretary general of BIMCO, said: ““BIMCO is concerned that systems approved to the present IMO standards are not robust enough to ensure that systems onboard real ships perform to the regulatory requirements to treat ballast water. We therefore call upon IMO to expedite the revision of their G8 guidelines.”

The choice for ship owners is also complicated by the lack of clarity on US rules. The US Coast Guard (USCG) has yet to issue any type approvals, although the first are expected late this year. Operators therefore cannot be certain that IMO type approved systems installed now will be accepted by the USCG.

Currently systems are granted temporary approval under the five-year Alternative Management System (AMS) certification, but there is no guarantee that these systems will receive full USCG type approval. The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) noted that shipowners that have installed an AMS, at a cost of US$1-5 million per ship, might then have to replace the system completely after only five years.

Esben Poulsson, chairman, ICS, noted: “The fixing of a definite implementation date, after so many years of delay, will at least give shipowners some of the certainty needed to make important decisions about whether to refit the new mandatory treatment equipment or otherwise to start sending ships for early recycling. Unfortunately, the entry into force of the new IMO regime will not resolve the extreme difficulties that still exist in the United States.”


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