The IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention (BWMC) 2004 will enter into force on 8 September 2017. As at April 2017, the BWMC has 54 contracting states (including Panama, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Hong Kong and Singapore), representing approximately 53.41% of the world’s gross tonnage. The BWMC establishes an international regime designed to regulate ballast water management to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment. The BWMC also requires the signatory countries to apply the requirements of the Convention to the ships of countries not party to the Convention to ensure that they are not given more favourable treatment.
The BWMC sets out various requirements that vessels must comply with including a provision stating that all new vessels must be fitted with an IMO certified ballast water treatment system (BWTS). Currently, the BWMC states that existing vessels need to have an approved BWTS fitted by the first International Oil Pollution Prevention (IOPP) survey dry-docking after 8 September 2017, however it is thought that this deadline will be discussed at the next IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting in July 2017. It remains to be seen whether an extension will be agreed that would give ship-owners additional time for installation of the right equipment, rather than having to do this by the first IOPP survey dry-docking after 8 September 2017.
The US will not be a party to the BWMC and has implemented more stringent criteria, in order for treatment systems to be approved by the US Coast Guard (USCG). This raises the issue as to which BWTS a ship owner should install. As at April 2017, the USCG has approved only three BWTS. Other manufacturers have applied for USCG approval but, for the time being, vessels of any flag will not be able to ballast in US waters without a USCG approved BWTS. In the meantime, most IMO-approved systems have met the criteria for being accepted as Alternate Management Systems by the USCG. This means that vessels fitted with those systems are allowed to ballast in US waters for a period of five years, with the assumption that the manufacturer will eventually seek USCG approval.