Ballast Water Management – the endless pursuit of perfection

Malin Group Ballast Blog, Malin Blog, News

A few years ago, attending one of the first IMarEST Ballast Water conference events in London, I was inspired by an important statement from one of the presenters, who, at the time, was advocating the adoption of the Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention as it stood:

“The pursuit of perfection should not prevent adoption of today’s solution”

A valuable piece of advice that I have implemented in various aspects of my personal and business life.

From further observation of this gentleman’s presentation, it was clear that his key point, however, was that continually debating the suitability of the BWM Convention, and delaying its entry into force and implementation as a result, all in pursuit of “perfection,” was not an acceptable solution for a society genuinely conscious of protecting the ocean environment.

Implementing the BWM Convention as it stood, taking action on protecting the environment, and thereafter focusing on fine tuning the legislation, was most certainly this gentleman’s intention.

Over 4 years later, despite Entry into Force and USCG Type Approvals looming, and finally some clarity on the horizon, many stakeholders are still advocating the pursuit of perfection.

The review of the G8 guidelines, undertaken by an IMO commissioned Correspondence Group, is ongoing, interpreted by some as being driven by the valid industry concerns that existing Type Approved technologies cannot function with full efficacy in all water conditions/scenarios. Very few would argue about the need for this review and whilst a step in the right direction, with Entry into Force looming and some owners faced with investing in equipment in just over 10 months time, the G8 review has created significant uncertainty amongst many shipowner communities with regards to the suitability of existing Type Approved technologies – prompting some to take action.

Papers submitted to MEPC 70 (which is scheduled to take place on 24th-28th October 2016) by India, ICS, BIMCO, INTERTANKO, CLIA, IPTA and WSC, call for changes to the implementation schedule due precisely to this uncertainty. The papers call for delays to implementation on the basis that the proposed changes to the G8 guidelines may render many existing Type Approved technologies obsolete, and to force shipowners to retrofit existing technologies could result in many vessels fitted with systems that, in the future, may not be capable of meeting the revised G8 criteria – opening owners to a host of potential penalties for non-compliance.

It is worth noting that submission of papers to MEPC essentially guarantees nothingmore than a discussion on the topic. The committee will debate, and agree whether to implement the proposals or to dismiss them.

Delaying implementation would of course be a welcome respite for owners faced with significant investment in the short term, especially considering the tough market conditions at present. However many on the opposing side argue that a simpler solution to this uncertainty is the much discussed “grandfathering” concept, whereby vessels that install a Type Approved technology prior to any revised G8 guidelines, would not be subject to penalties through lack of ability to meet the revised G8 standards.

Indeed those owners who have already installed Type Approved systems in good faith would strongly argue that the “grandfathering” concept is the fairer solution – given they have already invested in making their vessels compliant.

What the “grandfathering” concept does achieve, through maintaining the current implementation schedule, is immediate (well, from 8th September 2017) action against the spread of alien species and the protection of the ocean environment.

Afterall, was that not the purpose of the BWM Convention in the first place?

As a consultancy dedicated to providing impartial advice to owners and assisting them with compliance, we support any and all mechanisms to help owners comply in as cost efficient a manner as possible.

Our concern, however, is that short term delays to implementation may not always be helpful to owners in the long term. Short term delays could result in compressing the number of vessels requiring retrofitting into an even shorter time frame. For larger operators, this creates more uncertainty with regards to budget and drydock planning.

At this point in time too, under the G8 guidelines as they stand, Type Approved ballast water management systems (BWMS) are readily available and they are as cheap as they have ever been.

Revising the G8 guidelines, requiring manufacturers re-test their systems to new standards, will inevitably result in increased price points. With many manufacturers currently funding the seven figure sums associated with USCG Type Approval testing, any revised G8 guidelines could even result in many manufacturers going out of business.

Our biggest concern, however, is that delays to the implementation of the BWM Convention, do not negate any regional BWM requirements, or the USCG requirements. Owners must still be prepared for these.

Chris McMenemy is General Manager at Cleanship Solutions, which is part of Malin Group – a collection of companies offering a comprehensive range of services to the marine industry. To keep up to date please follow us on LinkedIn (, Facebook ( or on our Instagram (@malin_group), for a steady stream of eclectic and interesting engineering images.