Democracy and the murkier aspects of ballast water

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

18 January 2016


Ship, boat, freighter – there are plenty of terms used to describe ships, some of which grate on the ears of shipping professionals but the recent on – off saga concerning the ballast water convention highlights something that needs a great deal of clarification. We all know that the convention comes into effect once ‘not less than thirty States, the combined merchant fleets of which constitute not less than thirty-five percent of the gross tonnage of the world‘s merchant shipping’. But what does that really mean? Is it the whole of the world’s merchant shipping or just parts of it? Does it include fishing vessels, tug boats workboats etc? Should it be confined to only ships that will actually be affected by the convention – namely those with a ballast capacity any size? According to the convention text Gross tonnage is defined (article 1.7) ‘Gross tonnage“ means the gross tonnage calculated in accordance with the tonnage measurement regulations contained in Annex I to the International Convention on Tonnage Measurement of Ships, 1969 or any successor Convention’. Similarly (article1.12) a ship is defined as ‘Ship“ means a vessel of any type whatsoever operating in the aquatic environment and includes submersibles, floating craft, floating platforms, FSUs and FPSOs’. That definition goes beyond what many would consider a ship and, as most know, many inland craft are also given a gross tonnage in some countries. Does then the world merchant fleet for the purpose of the ballast convention include all those inland craft and craft that may have a gross tonnage but were never intended to make use of water ballast? More to the point are some vessel types included by some countries and not others when the total gross tonnage of the world’s merchant shipping is calculated and is that fair especially when the convention may never apply to them at all? There is another issue which is raised by a study of the convention text. In some places the convention text implies that the requirement to carry out ballast management applies to any ship that has a ballast capacity of any size but it says also that vessels of 400gt and above must have a certificate and undergo regular surveys. Where then does a vessel of 399gt or less stand? They may not have to undergo a survey or be issued a certificate but must they still have a ballast treatment system? Finally while there must be some sympathy for system makers who have spent vast sums on R&D in preparation for when the convention comes into effect, can it really be right that something that will impose such a significant cost on international shipping can be imposed by a minority? After all, while 48 states may have signed (47 plus Faroe Islands which does not have full membership status at the IMO) there are more than 150 which have not and the administrations of 65% of the worlds’ fleet may never even have to agree for the conventions requirements to come into effect. Is a greater degree of democracy and transparency in order?