MEPC 71 – Compromising on Ballast Water Convention Dates

Malin Group Ballast Blog, Malin Blog

Headlines and column inches have been dominated this past week by curiously unsubstantiated claims that MEPC 71 is likely to approve proposals to delay implementation of the D-2 standard of the IMO Ballast Water Management Convention.

Whilst these proposals may indeed be approved and adopted at MEPC 71 – passing outright claims of them being a “done deal” two months before the meeting, at a time when owners and operators need to be planning for compliance in accordance with the currently accepted timetable, is downright careless.

Those owners who now put a hold on their compliance plans, through expectation that these proposals are agreed, could be left with a matter of months to re-start their planning and achieve compliance should the proposals in fact, be rejected. Let’s not forget that very similar proposals at MEPC 70 failed to gain enough momentum to be accepted and implemented.

The proposals, to some owners, are incredibly attractive – potentially permitting an additional two years before having to worry about installing ballast water treatment systems. However, not all owners would benefit from these proposals, and the bigger picture issues the proposals would create in the industry would be of benefit to nobody – especially shipowners.

Owners of vessels such as barges (which are unmanned at sea) and short sea shipping (which never operate in water 200 nautical miles from shore), are unable to achieve compliance using ballast water exchange – so the likelihood is these vessels would still have to comply via D-2 from entry into force anyway.


Then there are the USCG and other regional ballast water requirements. A significant percentage of the world’s shipping tonnage will want to retain the ability to trade into US waters. Further delays to D-2 implementation are completely irrelevant to owners who will be forced to comply with USCG requirements from their next scheduled drydocking, if not already.

The “Compromise”

Having reviewed the content of the proposal at the heart of these rumours – “A compromise proposal for the amendment of regulation B-3 of the BWM Convention,” submitted to MEPC 71 by Brazil, Cook Islands, India, Liberia, Norway and the United Kingdom, it is clear that these proposals are a compromise only in endeavouring to continue to delay the inevitable, and fall far short of their claimed intention.

Paragraph 6 of the proposal states:

“The co-sponsors believe that a compromise should aim to provide a timely implementation schedule that aims to phase –in the use of ballast water management systems…”

A powerful sentiment that echoes many of the concerns of the industry regarding phasing in of the compliance dates. The sentiment is further emphasised in paragraph 6:

“… Furthermore it should also be recognised that a timely and predictable phase-in schedule would assist management system manufacturers, yards, classification societies and other in preparing for the entry into force of the Convention…”

However, beyond this paragraph, the proposals completely ignore this sentiment, and outline what are essentially a means for some owners to buy more time before having to worry about D-2 compliance.

Firstly, in proposing that the IOPP Renewal be maintained as the compliance mechanism, the proposal immediately negates its stated intention. Continuing with the IOPP Renewal enables some owners, permitted by Flag States, to de-harmonise certificates and “buy” as much as 7 years before having to comply. Tying the compliance mechanism with such a flexible timeline does not promote certainty for the industry – and creates significant disparity between those forced to comply from entry into force (as outlined earlier), those obligated to comply with other ballast water regulations (such as USCG or regional requirements) and those lucky enough to buy more time.

It is also often discussed in trade publications and at various conferences, that one of the biggest challenges facing the industry is the poorly conceived phase-in of the BWM Convention. Due to de-harmonization, thousands of vessels will now fall due for compliance over a mere two-year period – in 2021/2022. This will undoubtedly result in lack of availability of systems, shipyards, consultants and even Class surveyors – all struggling to cope with this self-inflicted tidal wave of vessels. And what about owners – are they really prepared to fund compliance of an entire fleet in the space of 1 or 2 years – rather than spread it evenly across a longer time frame?

Rather than propose a sensible phase-in of the requirements, over, say, a 5 year period, the proposals at hand simply suggest pushing everything back, by another 2 years – hardly a compromise!

Such an approach will continue to have serious negative effects on the ballast water management industry – manufacturers will continue to struggle, and many may be eliminated from the market. Whilst there is room for contraction in such a saturated market – losing manufacturers of particular technology types may be catastrophic for the industry and make compliance for particular vessel type’s even tougher long term.

These constant debates, delays and excuses are helping nobody – especially owners. The regulators need to stand up to this challenge and agree a sensible, unequivocal phase-in of the BWM Convention requirements, and set forth a precedent for compliance.

Why not follow the USCG implementation schedule concept – linking compliance to a vessel’s next scheduled drydocking after a specific date (perhaps 12 months after entry into force to allow owners to plan). Not only would this approach negate any attempts to undermine the principle (ie via de-harmonization), but it also sets in stone cardinal dates that the entire industry can begin planning for.

The longer we have implementation schedules linked to a renewal survey that can be re-scheduled at a whim, the longer the inevitable is postponed, and the tougher it will be for everyone to comply, when the time finally does come.

MEPC 71 – an opportunity for the ballast water management industry to help itself…

Chris McMenemy is Managing Director 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.