Vessels with Permanent Ballast Water – Do they need a BWTS?

by | Thursday, July 31, 2014 |

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 consumption.

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, irreversible.

IMO Actions

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.

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