BWMC’s fate hangs in the balance

Jun 30 2017

Delegates at next week’s IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 71) may have the last chance to ensure that the long-delayed Ballast Water Convention (BWMC) is implemented, as intended, when ships undergo their five year special surveys.

This meeting could ultimately decide whether the convention’s requirements are finally fulfilled across the many thousands of ships, which require ballast water treatment system (BWTS) installations, said Coldharbour CEO, Andrew Marshall.
“It is a couple of minutes to midnight for this convention,” Marshall stressed, “and the outcome of this next MEPC meeting will surely decide its fate. They will be discussing a possible postponement of the convention’s entry-into-force by two years and this may be no bad thing. But delegates at the meeting have a real chance to demonstrate that the IMO does indeed have teeth and will not put up with deliberate flouting of its best intentions.”
Some flag states are now actively marketing a decoupling of the special survey – the time when practically all BWTS retrofit installations will take place – from renewal of the International Oil Pollution Prevention Certificate (IOPPC). This is the point in time that IMO set as the trigger for system installations because the IOPPC renewal normally takes place during a ship’s special survey. Decoupling of the two events is a cynical means of enabling shipowners to buy more time, Marshall believed, which flies in the face of the IMO’s intentions.
A two-year postponement of the BWMC’s entry-into-force could prove helpful for the industry in several ways, Marshall said, even though it is already 13 years since the convention was adopted. However, he insisted that any postponement must come as part of a package, which sees shipboard treatment system installations timed, as the IMO has always intended, to coincide with renewal of the IOPPC at the next special survey. Decoupling must stop, he asserted.
Marshall also warned that for ship operators whose vessels trade or may trade in US waters, any IMO postponement of the entry-into-force is entirely irrelevant. The US is not a party to the IMO Convention and, under US regulations, the trigger for installing treatment systems – either type-approved by the US Coast Guard or authorised for up to five years from a ship’s compliance date under its Alternate Management System (AMS) – is the first drydocking after 1st January, 2014 or 1st January, 2016 depending on a vessel’s ballast water capacity.
Marshall believed some flag states are using the IOPPC decoupling process as a means of winning more tonnage from ship operators who wish to delay system installations for as long as possible. And some ship operators are only too pleased to have more wriggle room, he suggested. But this is likely to have some unwelcome consequences for shipowners.
“If a two-year postponement is agreed at MEPC 71, and the decoupling process is not stopped, the IMO’s most-delayed convention will have no impact on many ships for possibly another seven years from today,” Marshall explained. “This would be iniquitous for proactive owners who have already invested in the installation of treatment systems and have the convention’s best interests at heart.
“It would also mean that many of the independent ballast water system manufacturers will have given up or gone bust by the time the market emerges, and as a result ship operators will be restricted in their choice of system to the large corporate manufacturers, which have diversified product lines that are revenue generating and thus allow them to simply wait for the sector to come good.  
“We already know that no single technology is suitable for all ship types, and having plenty of choice is essential if operators are to undertake effective due diligence before deciding on a particular treatment system that is not only fit for purpose but also, most importantly, reflects the actual operational requirements of their vessels.
“I urge delegates at MEPC 71 to take a strong line on these issues, which will ultimately seal the fate of the Ballast Water Convention. As an industry, we must have an unambiguous timeline and a chance to see through the IMO’s best intentions to completion,” he said.  

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