Ballast log jam could build further

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

16 March 2016


While ballast treatment system makers are chafing at the bit in the belief that the 35% trigger point will soon be reached even without further ratifications now that the IMO has initiated monthly checks, Liberia has a proposal on the Agenda for MEPC69 that could see the roll out delayed beyond what has already been agreed. Liberia was the first of the big three registers to ratify the convention which it did in September 2008. That was before some of the concerns over the robustness of the G8 process were raised and before the operational problems of some systems became known. The proposal to extend the rollout programme is based upon Liberia’s assessment of the capacity of drydocks globally to meet the demand. Because compliance with the Ballast Convention is dependent on renewal dates of ships’ IOPP certificates, many owners have renewed early in anticipation of the convention coming into force and therefore pushed their compliance date further into the future. Liberia has calculated that based on current scheduled drydockings, there is global capacity for under 5,000 ships to undergo retrofitting and even if this could be pushed to 6,000 ships it would mean insufficient capacity to meet the expected peak of 9,500 vessels needing to fit systems in 2020. Liberia also lists issues with reliability of systems as a reason to consider further delays. The proposal that Liberia has submitted to MEPC69 points out that under the initial fitting programme, existing ships would have been allowed up to eight years to fit systems but because of the larger number of ships now affected this might prove insufficient. It suggests that an improved method of ballast water exchange would mean ships would be able to match the performance of many type approved systems and that if permitted could allow the duration of relaxation to be expanded to 15 years. Liberia’s estimate of the retrofit capacity is in line with what some industry observers have been warning about but it does not take into account the possible effect of regional exemptions that could be permitted once the convention is in force. Whether the proposal will be accepted will depend upon delegates at MEPC69 which takes place in mid-April. Given the efforts made by the IMO to get the convention into force, nothing can be guaranteed but considering that less than 50 states have ratified and one of those is now apparently having second thoughts on the wisdom of having done so, it is quite likely that the outcome of the discussion will be down to the majority of states that are uncommitted.