Almost a decade after it was initially intended to become effective, the IMO’s 2004 ballast water convention will finally be in force as from 8 September this year (2017). The trigger point came last September (2016) when Finland added its signature taking the percentage of the world fleet covered by ratifying states over the 35% figure by a very slim margin. Since then Panama has come on board so that the world fleet covered is now comfortably over the 50% mark. In the US, the first systems received USCG type-approval in late 2016 giving their makers a head start in selling into one sector of the market.

It has been a long and frustrating wait for system makers several of whom have given up waiting and retired from the fray. But even though most have thought that the coming into force of the convention would lead to a buying spree that would keep system makers, drydocks and engineering companies busy for some years to come, the likelihood of that happening is receding.

A loophole

Shipowners have found a legal loophole that could give them as much as five more years if they take action quickly enough, and while not all flag states are happy with the situation, most are prepared to allow owners to take advantage. If they had not, then there was a very strong possibility that shipowners faced with a big bill would have voted with their feet and switched flags.

There are other developments that will work against system manufacturers also taking place. Countries in Northern Europe and South East Asia are actively looking at the possibility of establishing ‘Same Risk Areas’ in their respective locations which could see ships that trade only in those areas made exempt.

There is too a possibility that some ports and entrepreneurs will develop port-based alternatives that are allowed within the convention and which would see ships not having to install systems as long as they trade between such ports. The development of containerised systems not only makes the retrofit process cheaper and less complex, it also means that systems can be recycled when the original ship makes its final voyage to the scrapyard.

All in all it is not what system makers had hoped for but at least some will now be able to begin recouping the expenses laid out in system development.