Same-risk areas and regional enforcement worry conference delegates

Paul Gunton

Paul Gunton · 01 March 2019


Plans to establish ‘same-risk areas’ (SRAs) under IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention (BWMC) are “on the move” according to one of the panellists in a session looking at ballast water treatment topics during ShipInsight’s conference last month (14 February).

Dr Frank Stuer-Lauridsen, chief executive of the Danish maritime environmental consultancy Litehauz, has written papers and made presentations on the topic for a number of years, including contributing to submissions to IMO. Its Marine Environment Protection Committee started considering same-risk areas at MEPC 68 in 2015 and defined them in the BWMC’s G7 Guidelines during MEPC 71 in July 2017. Yet still no SRA has been declared.

Peter Sahlén, Alfa Laval; Andrew Marshall, Coldharbour Marine; Dr. Frank Stuer-Lauridsen, LITEHAUZ and Malcolm Latarche, ShipInsight at The ShipInsight Conference

Another speaker, the chief executive of Coldharbour Marine Andrew Marshall, underlined the difficulties facing ships because of the lack of SRAs. At the moment, if a vessel took on ballast in a port and barely moved before discharging it, that water would have to be treated. It is counter-intuitive, he said.

Dr Stuer-Lauridsen agreed. Although the BWMC allows for water to be discharged in the ‘same location’, there has been little discussion about what that means, he said. “You cannot move to the next berth because then you are not in the same location,” he said. But he has been involved in research into natural dispersal patterns of marine organisms and that is being used to identify the size of safe-risk areas. As a result, he told delegates, Denmark and Sweden are “in the process of looking into it for vessels that trade in the Kattegat area.”

His comments came after his introductory remarks to the conference, in which he warned that regional approaches to ballast management could emerge in the future. He mentioned the varied responses to open loop scrubbers as a precedent, pointing out that although IMO has agreed discharge criteria for scrubbers, there are countries that do not want any discharges in their waters.

European countries in particular are using the EU’s Water Framework Directive to support their policies, he said, “so what I fear is that we will see some of the same actions taken with ballast water if we are not careful. Are you prepared for that?” he asked conference attendees. As to what being careful involved, however, he was less clear. “I don’t know yet.”

One region that does have its own approach, of course, is the US and delegates questioned whether the discharge limits demanded by some of its states are technically possible to meet. Mr Sahlén said that, from an R&D point of view, “everything is possible”, but he cautioned that in solving one environmental problem, another difficulty might be caused. “We can squeeze up the power and increase the dosing” but since the limits are undetectable to most instruments, it is not clear how much treatment would actually be needed.

Mr Marshall agreed. “The additional resources and the compromises made to achieve [those limits] will massively impact on shipowners and operators,” he said.

So he welcomed the US Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA), which was signed into law by President Trump on 4 December 2018 and will establish a nationwide approach to ballast water treatment standards. The US Coast Guard must publish a draft policy letter within 180 days (by 2 June 2019) followed by up to 60 days of public consultation. A final policy letter must be published by 4 December 2019.

This process is intended to give the various states a say in developing those policies and Mr Sahlén described this arrangement as a compromise; “how this is going to play out, no one really knows.” Mr Marshall shared his uncertainty over how individual states will react to VIDA. He singled out California’s ballast treatment requirements as “an example where idealism has got in the way of pragmatism” and hoped that VIDA’s provisions “will win out overall and common sense prevails.”

Taking a broad view of current attitudes to ballast management, Mr Sahlén described what he saw as a shift in emphasis away from type-approvals and towards installation and enforcement as various deadlines come into effect this year and next. “The peak for installations is coming,” he said. “You need to get all your plans prepared and secure your equipment and installation capacity.”

Mr Marshall expressed astonishment that, even now, “there are still a lot of people in complete denial over whether this legislation will be implemented at all.” This is reflected across the manufacturing sector by a lack of orders, he said. “It is ten to midnight; where are all the customers?” He also said that some owners approach him with requests to install a system during a drydocking just three months in advance, “completely failing to understand the lead times and the scale of the engineering task involved in fitting a ballast water treatment system.”

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