Ballast water is essential for safe and energy-efficient ship operation. Ships fill and empty their ballast water tanks depending on the weight of the cargo on board, as this enables them to float stably on the water and to thereby operate as safely and efficiently as possible. Long-term efforts are being made to prevent the unintended side effects of transporting harmful aquatic microorganisms into foreign waters.
The International Convention on the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) stipulates that every ship is required to treat its ballast water. For German shipowners, the convention represents an important contribution to efforts to protect marine environments. With this convention, the IMO has once again set effective global standards that do not distort competition because they apply to all shipping companies. At the same time, the convention is also one of the most expensive environmental regulations the shipping industry has ever had to shoulder.
The treaty text, originally adopted in 2004, entered into force on 8 September 2017. All ships now have until 8 September 2024 to install a ballast water treatment system. The actual deadline for when a specific ship must have completed this installation is determined by the date when its essential International Oil Pollution Prevention (IOPP) certificate must be renewed.
Exceptions to this can only be approved by the flag states for dredgers and offshore vessels, as well as for vessels operating exclusively within one “bio-region” (waters containing the same marine animals and microorganisms) between two to three specified ports, such as on the North Sea and Baltic Sea. The timeframe for retrofitting all of the roughly 40,000 impacted ships with the systems, which cost up to 2 million euros each, was already very ambitious from the start. But outfitting the ships has become even more challenging for shipping companies owing to the global travel and supply disruptions triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.