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The continuing debacle over ratifying the ballast water convention

The continuing debacle over ratifying the ballast water convention
Late Friday last week brought the news that the Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention had now entered its 12th year without being ratified, that despite promise that it was most likely to make the grade in late November 2015.

The tale of the bringing the BWM Convention to global enforcement verges on a comedy, but unfortunately that it is a comedy that can be used against the IMO in its rightful role as the global regulator for a global shipping industry.

The regulation against invasive species carried across oceans in ballast water was adopted in 2004 and included a timetable for implementation. That timetable has long since passed and has had to be re-written, the technology that kills the invasive species has changed, and perhaps rather predictably the US has come up with its own much tougher standards.

Since sometime in 2013 we have been promised the ratification of the BWM Convention and therefore its entry into force was imminent in the next 12 months. In November 2015 it appeared that the convention could really come into force in November 2016, but oh no wait a minute no-one is quite sure big how the Indonesian fleet actually is.

Over one and half months later we find out that it only took the global fleet to 0.44% under the global tonnage threshold of 35%. Percentage wise this may not sound like a lot, but in tonnage terms it is pretty significant and it is hard to believe such a discrepancy was not obvious, even given “rubber time” as it is referred to in this part of the world in terms of not turning up on time for meetings etc, and presumably reporting fleet statistics.

For very obvious reasons shipowners with 25-year timelines on the life of their vessels like predictably of regulation. This is clearly not happening here.

Indeed even had the numbers have been found to be over 35% of the world fleet owners would not have had the expected 12 months to prepare, but it could have just 10 months after the faffing over the actual numbers.

Yes, you can point out owners have known the regulation was coming for 12 years, but when exactly was and still is the question. Spending millions of dollars to comply with a future regulation, that turned out to be moving goal posts anyway in terms of technology, made very little sense to the vast majority of owners.

In the meantime we have had equipment companies ramping up marketing and production to sell systems to shipowners, highly reluctant to buy – this is not a good scenario for anybody.

As it stands Panama, the world’s largest flag-state has now started the ratification process and this should be complete in some months time ensuring the BWM Convention will be in force some time in 2017.

That would be 13 years after the convention was promulgated at a diplomatic conference by the IMO, for which in a world engrossed in environmental concerns is far too long.

The IMO spends years drawing up regulations such as the BWM Convention, a decade it is said in the case of ballast water, yet apparently with no commitment to if, or ever, they will come into force. The ship recycling convention launched with much hoo-ha at the diplomatic conference in Hong Kong in 2009 is an obvious case in point. Surely some of the nations involved in drafting the regulations could give an upfront commitment to back the new rule?

Yes the IMO certainly should be the sole regulator for the global shipping industry, but the 12-year debacle over the ratification of the BWM Convention does it no favours at all. And it adds fuel to the fire to those who say it cannot be trusted to set global emissions targets for the shipping industry.