In this article, Debra DiCianna, Senior Environmental Solutions Engineer, ABS, discusses the issues to be addressed by IMO as it works towards ratification of the BWM Convention, specifically the concept of no penalty for early adopters, as well as providing further insight into the US Coast Guard approvals process.

Despite positive signals from several states that they are preparing ratification instruments for the Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention, the conclusion of 68th session of the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee left shipowners and system vendors with no firmer timeline on when the Convention will come into force.

It also became clear during the committee meeting held in May that the decision to revise the G8 Guidelines addressing approval of ballast water management systems, while important to the Convention’s future, will be a lengthy process covering many different issues. 

No penalty for early movers

One of the key concerns of shipowners in addressing the requirements of the BWM Convention, before ratification and entry into force, is the risk that early adopters could find themselves out of compliance if their system of choice does not subsequently meet the required standards.

While no new ratifications to the Convention were announced at MEPC 68, progress was made on continuing the revision of the G8 Guidelines and the development of a mechanism that does not penalize the early movers who specify systems ahead of ratification.

Unlike SOLAS and MARPOL, the BWM Convention does not include a clause for ‘grandfathering’ which exempts ships of certain ages from its provisions and so this term is not used.

In order to make progress on the issue and attempt to give owners some reassurance, MEPC agreed to a roadmap for the implementation of the BWM Convention in a way that addresses non-penalization.

The roadmap states that “Shipowners who have installed, maintained and operated correctly a BWMS approved in accordance with the Guidelines (G8) MEPC.174(58)) should not be required to replace these systems, for the life of the ship or the system, whichever comes first, due to occasional lack of efficacy for reasons beyond the control of the shipowner and ship’s crew.”

The roadmap also states that “Early movers should not be penalized (sanctioned, warned, detained or excluded) solely due to an occasional exceedance of the D-2 [discharge] standard following use of a BWMS approved by an Administration under Guidelines (G8) (MEPC.174(58)) if:

1: the ship has a correctly installed BWMS approved in accordance with Guidelines (G8) (MEPC.174(58));

2: the approved ballast water management plan is followed, including the operational instructions and the manufacturer's specifications for the BWMS;

3: the BWMS has been maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions; and

4: the self-monitoring system of the BWMS indicates that the treatment process is working properly.”

While these provisions, when agreed and adopted, will be welcome to those owners who have already installed BWMS on their vessels, it is clear that proper review, approval and survey of installed BWMS and ballast water management plans by a classification society is paramount to prove that clauses are upheld.

US Coast Guard Approval Process

As a result of the uncertainty around the Convention, in the near term at least, vendors continue to be focused on the process required to comply with US Coast Guard (USCG) ballast water management requirements and owners with gaining clarity on purchasing a USCG Type Approved BWM system (BWMS).

As of May 2015, no BWMS had received Type Approval by the USCG, which stated that 17 vendors had submitted a Notice of Intent (NOI) to conduct the Type Approval testing process.

Four independent laboratories have been accepted by the USCG for testing of BWMS. These are NSF International, DNV-GL AS, Korean Register of Shipping, and Control Unions Certifications BV. Each of the laboratories has a set of approved subcontractors to perform the various testing processes required.

While filing a NOI is an important part of the process, ABS maintains communication with BWMS vendors that have contracted with an independent laboratory. To date, ABS has received confirmation by 13 vendors of contracts, though this figure can be expected to grow over time.

The USCG Type Approval process is estimated to take between 18 to 24 months for the initial systems testing. In March 2015, three BWMS vendors announced that their complete Type Approval package had been submitted for USCG review.

All three of these BWMS use ultraviolet (UV) disinfection as one of the treatment steps to achieve the required discharge standards. Vendors of UV systems will be subject to additional consideration by the USCG whose discharge standards refer to ‘living organisms’ rather than the ‘viable organisms’ referred to in the BWM Convention.

It is important to note that UV-based BWMS are approximately 50% of total IMO BWM Convention Type Approved systems. UV systems tend to be simpler to use and, at lower flow rates, demonstrate an improved energy footprint. A search of the technology types currently installed on ABS classed-vessels indicates that a majority of Offshore Support Vessels (OSVs) have selected UV technology installations.

Despite the progress made at MEPC 68, shipowners still have many challenges ahead of them for compliance with ballast water management requirements both in the US and globally.

They need to focus on being prepared, specifically staying up to date with the progress of the USCG Type Approval process, understanding BWM Convention compliance dates and how the revision of the G8 Guidelines may impact them.

Many unknowns need to be resolved before shipowners can fully respond to the challenges ahead. Classification societies will continue to provide the necessary support and insight to help them reach the right decisions as global ratification and US Type Approval move inexorably closer.


Written by Debra DiCianna, Senior Environmental Solutions Engineer, ABS


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