Currently, Coast Guard regulations do not have a requirement for
vessels containing permanent ballast water to install onboard ballast water
treatment systems (BWTS).
Overview on Ballast Water Management
Since steel-hulled vessels were introduced over a century ago,
water has been used as a ballast to stabilize vessels at sea.The way this works is that ballast water is
pumped in to establish and maintain safe operating conditions throughout the
length of a voyage. The process lessens
stress on the vessel’s hull, improves maneuverability and propulsion, provides
stability, and compensates for the loss of weight due to water and fuel
Ballast water, however, might pose very serious ecological,
health, and economic issues due to the marine species carried in a vessel’s
ballast water, such as microbes, eggs, small invertebrates, bacteria, larvae
and cysts. The transferred species can
survive to establish a reproductive population in the host environment, but
then become invasive, out-competing native species and increasing populations
to pest proportions.
This problem is due in large part to the increased trade and
traffic over recent decades, and with that increase not slowing, the problem
has not yet reached its peak. Effects in
many regions of the world have been devastating, and data shows the rate of
these bio-invasions continues to rise. In fact, the spread of invasive species is recognized as one of the
greatest threats to the economic and ecologic well-being of our planet. Direct and indirect health effects have
become increasingly serious, and environmental damage is, in most cases,
The IMO has taken the lead in addressing the transfer of aquatic
invasive species (AIS) through shipping, and after over 14 years of
negotiations with IMO Member States, it created the International Convention
for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM
Convention). The Convention was adopted
by consensus at a Diplomatic Conference held at IMO Headquarters on February
13, 2004. It will require all ships to
implement Ballast Water and Sediments Management Plan, wherein all ships must
carry a Ballast Water Record Book and must also carry out ballast water
management procedures to an established standard.
The Convention will enter into force twelve months after it is
ratified by 30 States, which represents 35 percent of world merchant shipping
tonnage. You can check the current ratification status here.
Though the BWM Convention is not yet in effect, it is generally
used as a guideline by the United States for establishing requirements. The Convention does not apply to those
vessels not constructed or designed to carry ballast water or permanent water
in sealed tanks.
USCG Final Rule
The U.S. Coast Guard’s Final Rule, “Standards for Living Organisms in the Ships’ Ballast Water
Discharged in U.S. Waters”
went into effect in June of 2012, establishing standards for permissible
concentration of living organisms in any ballast water that is discharged into
U.S. waters. The Rule also established
requirements for certain vessels to operate an approved water treatment
system. Page 30 of the final rule
confirms that regulations regarding BWTS do not relate to water that is
permanently ballasted or sealed in ballast tanks.
New York State
New York State regulations differ greatly from federal
regulations; however, even under New York State regulations, there is no
requirement that a BWTS be installed when a vessel has a permanently sealed
tank that is not subject to discharge.
On November 3, 2008, the NY Department of Environmental
Conservation issued a notice providing that every vessel operated in New
York waters must have a BWTS no later than January 1, 2012, but the condition does not apply to those
vessels that carry permanent ballast water in sealed tanks. When those regulations were challenged in Matter of Port of Oswego Authority V.
Grannis, the New York State Supreme Court found that the state regulations
were sound and binding, and the ruling was subsequently upheld in the State
Appellate Division as well as the State Court of Appeals.
Does my vessel need a BWTS?
A vessel with permanent ballast water in sealed tanks does not
need to install a BWTS if it is travelling to or through the United States,
though that is subject to the requirements of each state where a destination
port is located.