Ballast dam breached

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

09 September 2016


There were broad smiles and celebratory handshakes among system makers at SMM yesterday at the news that Finland’s ratification of the IMO Ballast Water Treatment Convention had tipped the balance and the percentage of the world fleet covered by ratifying states now stands at 35.1441%. The Convention will now enter force on 8 September 2017 after which all affected ships will be required to install ballast treatment systems at some future point. There is a timetable for retrofitting existing ships but it is possible that this may now be amended. Various shipping bodies and Liberia – one of the early ratifying states – have argued that the timetable is unworkable and there are still issues to be resolved around the type approval process. The IMO had previously said that changes to the convention wording and regulations would not be possible until the convention was in force and it can be expected that some changes will now be asked for and debated. While owners must now start preparing to choose a suitable system and arrange a retrofit the choice is made difficult for any with intentions to trade to the US as there are as yet no systems type approved by the US Coast Guard for use in US waters. Some owners of vessels operating in restricted areas may also delay in the hope that regional exemptions can be agreed on the grounds that the threat of species transfer by such ships is negligible if not non-existent. Discussions of a possible exemption zone in the Baltic region are already under way. The ratification may herald an expensive period for shipowners with the next MEPC meeting in October possibly agreeing on a 2020 date for the global cap on sulphur in fuels to be reduced from the current 3.5% to 0.5%. That could mean a switch to using distillates instead of residual fuels or the need to install scrubbing systems. The possibility of having to meet both sets of regulations within a very short period could lead to many older vessels being considered economically unviable and being sold for scrap. That in turn could help lift freight rates and bring some respite to the owners.