Ballast Water Management – Don’t Get Short (Sea Shipping)

Malin Group Ballast Blog, Malin Blog

Short sea shipping, and the application of the Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention, is, understandably, cause for serious concern. With an estimated 1.8 billion tonnes of goods shipped by short sea shipping in the EU alone, the trade is the backbone of the modern world. However, the challenges of compliance, coupled with current charter rates, may force many operators out of business or, at the very least, to scrap most of their aging vessels.

Whilst many an analyst enjoys populating maritime news headlines with the benefits such scrapping would have on the newbuild market and charter rates, this means nothing to the small local short sea shipping companies. Companies who have played an integral part of such an important market for many years, only to be forced out of business not due to the legislation itself, but due to the lack of ability, or willingness, of the legislators to make small and subtle changes to the legislation.

The determination, classification and subsequent application of the legislation to the short sea shipping trade have been discussed for many years. Numerous papers have been written and submitted to IMO and/or MEPC, many acknowledgements of the issues faced by short sea shipping made, and plenty potential “solutions” have been discussed. However, those who hold the power to implement such solutions, have, to date, made very little practical attempts to do so.

The concept of Same Risk Areas was thought, and hoped, by many to be the magic solution. The classification of one, or a number of, states, coastlines, waters or nations as being a “Same Risk Area” would, theoretically, mean vessels trading exclusively within such an area would be exempt from the requirements of the legislation. However, in order to make an application for such an exemption, significant scientific and biological testing and documentation has to be undertaken – a process that not only requires a substantial investment of time, but also represents significant cost. With Flag States facing no obligation to grant such exemptions anyway, many in the industry feel that these obstacles make it unlikely that vessel owners or operators will make such applications in the first place.

Those owners and operators hoping for a last minute reprieve from the legislators prior to entry into force should think again. The committee that would do so, the Environmental Protection Committee, is the same committee that, with only months to go until entry into force, still hasn’t agreed on a concrete set of compliance dates for the shipping industry as a whole – after the debacle of MEPC 70 (see our blog post on the matter here –

This leads us to one, uncomfortable, conclusion:

For short sea shipping there are no silver bullets, and full compliance with the legislation is necessary.

First and foremost, owners and operators have to begin looking at the D-1 standard and ballast water exchange. This will be required from entry into force on 8th September 2017 up until the vessel’s D-2 compliance date which, for the time being at least, is linked to its first IOPP renewal survey after entry into force. A Class approved ballast water management plan, record book and certificate of compliance will be required prior to entry into force.

For short sea shipping, ballast water exchange is not straight forward. Setting aside the stability and longitudinal strength concerns (see our previous blog post on the challenges of ballast water exchange here –, the legislation calls for such operations to be carried out in waters that many short sea shipping vessels are seldom, if ever, based in – 200nm offshore and 200m depth. Some Flag States have designated ballast water exchange areas to help with this issue, however many have not.

To somewhat address this issue, the IMO has included a specific clause in the BWM Convention, namely Regulation B-4 Item 3, which states:

“A ship shall not be required to deviate from its intended voyage, or delay the voyage, in order to comply with any particular requirement of paragraph 1.”

On paper, this essentially permits Flag States to exempt vessels from the D-1 requirements if it can be demonstrated that the vessel will have to deviate significantly from its trading routes in order to comply. However, it must be noted that to date, such exemptions have been few and far between, and more recently, there have been instances of Flag States essentially “ignoring” this clause, and very specifically, and unequivocally, requiring vessels to comply regardless of the impact to their trading routes.

With these issues in mind, and entry into force looming, it is important short sea shipping owners and operators begin planning their compliance with the legislation as it stands, as soon as possible. Legislative changes may indeed be made in the near future, allowing some leeway for short sea shipping however, for now, standard compliance is necessary.

Developing fleet wide ballast water management plans is an involved process and will require time to produce, refine and submit to Class. Owners / operators should bear in mind the longitudinal strength and dynamic stability requirements of the guidelines when engaging an external consultant – one with naval architecture capabilities is crucial, and experience of the legislation and its context is paramount. We recommend owners / operators get their plans submitted to Class as soon as possible to ensure approvals are in place prior to 8th September 2017. Many Class Societies will also insist on carrying out a survey of the vessel prior to issuing the Ballast water management certificate – so owners / operators should plan for this too.

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, for a steady stream of eclectic and interesting engineering images.