GREEN4SEA: What do the decisions made during MEPC 71 actually mean for the BWMC?

Stefan Micallef: MEPC 71 was a significant milestone for ballast water management, during which many important outcomes were achieved. These include agreed texts on amendments to the BWM Convention and a mandatory Code for approval of ballast water management systems (both to be adopted at MEPC 72); various new or revised guidelines and circulars providing guidance on a number of issues; establishment of an experience-building phase; finalization of a "how to do it" manual; as well as other items. These decisions mean that there can now be significantly more certainty and confidence among all stakeholders with regard to the effective implementation of the BWM Convention, which is now globally in force. With regard to the decisions on the implementation schedule of the ballast water management standards (amendment of regulation B-3), first of all they mean that all new ships built since 8 September 2017 (entry into force date for the BWM Convention) must meet the D-2 (discharge) standard. For existing ships, the MEPC took a pragmatic decision to phase-in compliance with the D-2 standard over a period between 8 September 2017 and 2024. Over time, more and more ships will be compliant with the D-2 standard.The date by which an individual existing ship must comply with the D-2 standard is linked to the ship’s International Oil Pollution Prevention Certificate renewal survey. Until they are required to meet the D-2 standard, ships should at least meet the D-1 (ballast water exchange) standard. In the meantime, it must not be forgotten that all ships now must have a ballast water management plan, ballast water record book and International Ballast Water Management Certificate


G4S: What are the biggest challenges towards BWMC implementation?

StM: Initially the biggest concerns for the implementation of the BWM Convention were related to the lack of guidelines and technologies. However these have been addressed over time, through the development of a comprehensive set of guidelines covering all topics related to BWM and the approval of a large number of BWMS, along with the strengthening of the approval framework. At this stage, with the aforementioned challenges addressed, as with any new set of rules the biggest challenge is making sure everyone is aware of them and that they are doing what is needed to comply. Having said that, the Convention was adopted in 2004 and a large amount of work has been done by industry and IMO together to raise awareness and ensure that everyone knows what the BWM Convention is, its aims and how to meet the standards. Indeed, awareness raising and preparation for BWM implementation was one of the key aims of the GEF- UNDP -IMO GloBallast Partnerships Programme (2000-2017), executed by IMO.  Implementation lies with the ship operators who need to make sure their ships are compliant, while States have to fulfil their roles as flag and port States. There is no doubt that manufacturers have a role to play to ensure that the equipment supplied is fit for purpose.


G4S: What do you think may be the immediate and long term consequences of the amended BWM timeframe for shipping? What shall we expect to happen?

StM: The time-frame agreed for the implementation of the D-2 standard has been a pragmatic solution to address concerns of industry and Member States regarding implementation. In practical terms, it means operators of existing ships can plan on how they intend to comply with the D-2 standard with certainty about when that should happen, linked to the IOPCC renewal survey. Apart from this much-needed certainty, other consequences should not be significant as it must be noted that, with this amendment, nothing changed for new ships as well as for many existing ones.   See the infographic prepared by the IMO Secretariat – 



G4S: Some environmental NGOs support that this two-year postponement is bad news for the marine environment. What is your view on this statement, considering that some existing vessels will have until 2024 to fully comply?

St.M.: Let me start by making some general observations. Firstly, an IMO convention is in effect the product of an accumulated effort of diverse and large number of stakeholders that finds its way into an agreed “package” of regulatory requirements and associated guidelines. As time goes on, if there is no immediate prospect of entry into force a “fragmentation of interest” may occur, eroding the motives that first drove the decision to develop and adopt that new instrument. Delay in entry into force can lead to demands to change what was originally agreed.  Once this happens the integrity of the whole package comes under threat and may even become “unstuck” and it may then become very difficult, if not impossible, to predict what will happen. This is not just bad risk management. Ultimately, it is a question of respect for what after all was agreed on a consensus basis, even if this might have included what some might, with the passing of time, think were certain flaws. I do strongly believe that both regulators and practitioners have a duty of care for adopted treaty instruments. That said, and homing in on the BWMC, it is important to remember that a number of requirements enter into force intermediately and these will have a positive impact on the health of the oceans and the environment, in terms of reducing the spread of potentially harmful organisms and pathogens in ballast water. The D-1 standard is now mandatory for those ships which do not yet have to comply with the D-2 standard. We can expect to see the number of ships meeting the D-2 standard increase over time, until we reach the point in 2024 when all ships are meeting the D-2 standard. And of course, it must always be kept in mind that what some describe as a two-year moratorium is only applicable to certain existing ships. Many will still have to comply with the D-2 standard progressively by 2022 as would have been the case before this amendment.


G4S: Do you foresee any emerging problems with the implementation of the BWMC?

St.M.: While I cannot specify what any problems might be, IMO has recognized that challenges may be expected and there may be a need for future improvements to the BWM Convention in the light of experience gained.  MEPC 71 adopted an important MEPC resolution, on “the experience-building phase associated with the BWM Convention”. This envisages a three-stage approach – data gathering; data analysis; and Convention review. This process envisages that, based on the experience and feedback as well as data gathering and analysis, if amendments to the Convention are needed they would be put forward at MEPC 79 (2022). As with other international treaties, Parties may also propose amendments at any time.


G4S: What needs to be further discussed/ clarified at MEPC72 (April 2018)?

St.M.: MEPC 72 will again have a busy agenda on ballast water management.  First of all the Committee will be invited to adopt the draft amendments to the BWM Convention which have been circulated. They can then enter into force 18 months later. The draft amendments set for adoption include: the draft amendments to the BWM treaty (regulation B-3) to make mandatory the new phase-in schedule for ships to meet the D-2 standard; draft amendments to the BWM Convention (regulations A-1 and D-3) to make mandatory the Code for approval of ballast water management systems (BWMS Code); and draft amendments relating to section E (Survey and certification). The BWMS Code will also be put forward for adoption. In addition, MEPC 72 will also make important decisions on issues such as the experience-building phase and approve further new guidelines and recommendations on various topics, among other things.


G4S: What is your key message to industry with respect to BWMC implementation?

St.M.: We all have to recognize that the problem of invasive species and pathogens carried in ballast water is something that has arisen due to the move from solid ballast to water. Water is an ideal ballasting solution – but its use has brought unintended consequences. It is incumbent on the shipping industry to now address the negative impacts of untreated ballast water, including the spread of invasive aquatic species with the resultant ecological, economic, health and environmental impacts. Ultimately, this is an important treaty which aims to improve the health and biodiversity of the oceans – something which is important to all of us.


The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of GREEN4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only


Dr. Stefan Micallef is Director, Marine Environment Division, International Maritime Organization (IMO).