Time for a rule change

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

21 June 2017


There are very few who could say with all honesty that the implementation of the 2004 Ballast water Convention has been anything but chaotic. From an initial planned implementation date for some new ships of 2009, the delay in ratification and the machinations of shipowners in de-coupling certificates will mean that some ships will only need to comply by 2022. That is already some 13 years later than planned and with a proposal on the table at next month’s MEPC from several countries and supported by the ICS that could see a further two year extension until 2024, it is time to give some serious thought to the way IMO conventions are managed. The latest attempt to delay the final implementation dates is not all about shipowners wanting to put off the inevitable but a reasoned position given that the type approval rules are changing introducing more uncertainty. The fact that the type-approval process was flawed from the outset is well known. It differs significantly from the US methodology and for ships trading globally there has always been the risk that systems might not be recognised equally by the IMO and US regimes. Coupled with the widely held view that some type-approved systems did not perform in practice as well as they should there was obviously a need for the process to be overhauled and altered long ago. However, it has been stated by the IMO and other experts that under the rules of the IMO itself, conventions cannot be altered before they have come into effect. Thus the industry and those developing and selling treatment systems were faced with a stand off as flag states held back from ratifying and owners from installing systems they had little confidence in. The result in the case of the ballast convention is that the delayed MEPC will be approving – possibly – new type-approval rules just months before the convention comes into effect. That is far too short a time scale for any system to be approved under the new rules so the choice of owners would be limited to older model systems already approved and on the market. It is impossible to say if things would have been different if the type-approval guidelines convention could have been re-written as problems came to light but many believe that to be the case. A country which had ratified could easily confirm its agreement or otherwise to any changes as they were made and those that were reluctant to ratify may have been persuaded to do so if they felt that the obstacles had been overcome. Currently there are no new conventions close to be adopted and so it might be a good time for the IMO to modify its rules on convention wordings so as to remove the problem for the future.