Over ten billion tons of ballast water a year are transported all over the world by the international trade fleet. The problem is that when ballast water is taken on, animal and plant organisms, bacteria and germs are also taken on board as stowaways. These then land in foreign waters at the ship’s destination when the water is pumped out, causing billions of pounds’ worth of economic and ecological damage and posing a threat to humans. The UNO considers this undesired spread of so-called invasive species one of the greatest threats to the maritime environment.
This is why new regulations for ballast water have been put in place by the IMO convention. These strict guidelines state that ballast water management systems may not harm the environment. The substances used must be biodegradable and may not present any kind of additional risk to humans, the environment or the ship.
In response to the problem of stowaways and damage caused by ballast water, the IMO agreed to the “International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments” in 2004. Following a period with a transitional regulation still in force, this convention will become international law by no later than 2016. For ship owners and operators, this means that new ships must be equipped with ballast water management systems. Ships already in service will also require a system, fitted to suit their ballast water capacity, by 2016.