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International Maritime Organization adopts ballast water convention (February 2004)

An international convention to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species carried by ships' ballast water was adopted by the International Maritime Organization. The IMO is the United Nations agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution from ships. The IMO announcement is at: http://www.imo.org/Newsroom/mainframe.asp?topic_id=848&doc_id=3475

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

The convention will require all ships to implement and record their compliance with a ballast water and sediments management plan. All ships constructed after 2009 will be required to carry out and record their compliance with ballast water management procedures set to a given performance standard. Ships constructed before 2009 will be required to do the same, but after phase-in period. The performance standard is based on the total volume of viable organisms of two different size ranges, per cubic meter discharged. Additional standards are set for three indicator microorganisms that are dangerous to human health. Ballast water exchange is likely to be the most commonly used management option in the near future and during the phase-in periods. Ballast water exchange is defined in the convention as a 95% exchange of ballast water by volume, or flushing tanks three times in designated ballast water exchange zones in the ocean.

Countries that sign onto the convention will also be bound by requirements to:

  • Establish reception facilities for tank sediments
  • Promote and facilitate research and monitoring
  • Cooperate with other countries who require technical assistance
  • Survey and certify ships, and allow detailed ship inspections by port inspectors

As the impacts of this convention are discussed, there are likely to be questions surrounding the interpretation of many requirements including alternate management provisions (such as the ability of countries to set more stringent standards and timelines), lengthy phase-in periods; approval and use of chemical control options; concerns with permitting alternate ballast water exchange zones, and; specific ship exemptions.

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