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Impact of Ballast Water at Marine Eco System

Ballast water is routinely taken on board to control a ship's trim, list, draught, and stresses. According to IMO estimates, ships carry between three to five billion tons of ballast water globally each year. However, ballast water that brought onboard can contain thousands of aquatic or marine microbes, plants, and animals. This water contains suspended matter, which includes microscopic life forms, coastal sediments, and any associated organisms. It is estimated that at least 7,000 different species are being carried in ships' ballast tanks around the world. Therefore, untreated ballast water, when released in a coastal area, can destroy the local ecosystem.

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Studies carried out in several countries indicated that many species of bacteria, plants, and animals could survive in the ballast water and sediment carried in ships, even after journeys of several months.

In general, ships start loading ballast water simultaneously as the discharge operation progresses in a coastal port. Thus after delivering full cargo, ships' light conditions got controlled. Subsequently, the full ballast water needs to discharge when loading initiates in another coastal port. Nevertheless, if this water not adequately treated, the organisms in the water and mud are carried to the next port. They are known to be able to survive for months inside ballast tanks.

The transferred species may survive to establish a population in the new environment. They can destroy local species and upset the natural balance. The spread of invasive species is recognized as one of the greatest threats to the ecology of the planet and can have devastating effects on the local economy. The damage to the environment is often irreversible as explained in below case study.

Case Study - Zebra Mussel

The zebra mussel, which is native to the Caspian and Black Seas, arrived in Lake St. Clair in the ballast water of a transatlantic freighter in 1987. Within ten years, it had spread to all of the five neighboring Great Lakes. Their introduction has had a major impact on the ecosystem of the Great Lakes and led to the extinction of native species and killed thousands of birds.

No Zebra Mussel during year 1986
No Zebra Mussel during year 1986
Impact of Zebra-Mussel during year 2011
Impact of Zebra Mussel during year 2011

Invasive species do not just impact the environment. They also impact the local and national economies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimate that the cost to the local economy is $5 billion. One invasive species transported to one part of the world has had a major impact on the environment and the local economy.

Solving the problem

We can deal with harmful aquatic organisms in two ways:
  1. prevent them from invading an ecosystem
  2. eliminate them from an ecosystem.

Elimination has proven to be practically impossible and very expensive. Prevention is more effective and economical.

IMO has adopted an International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments in 2004. It contains standards and procedures for the development and implementation of a Ballast Water Management (BWM) plan onboard ships.

The BWM Convention aims to prevent the introduction of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens from ships' ballast water and associated sediments while protecting ships' safety.

Since the transportation and discharge of ballast water can cause irreversible damage to the environment and local economies by introducing harmful aquatic species, it is now mandatory for all ship types to comply with BWM convention requirements.

The most effective method for preventing the introduction of harmful aquatics species is to prepare and implement a Ballast Water Management Plan that complies with the BWM Convention. The Master and the Ballast Water Management Officer must prepare and implement a Ballast Water Management Plan that complies with the BWM Convention. The plan also need to be approved from a recognized organization or classification society.
The Ballast Water Management Officer must maintain up to date records of all Ballast Water operations. Everybody involved in Ballast Water Management must know their responsibilities and receive training on how to implement the Ballast Water Management Plan.

Communication with Coastal State

To prevent the ship from being delayed entry to a Port State, there must be effective communication between the Master and Coastal State when coordinating the discharge of ballast water. Contact the Coast State for its ballast water discharge and reporting requirements before the vessel arrives in Port State's territorial waters. The Master and the Ballast Water Management Officer should obtain all the necessary information and prepare the vessel accordingly. If the Coastal State has specific requirements for the discharge of ballast water take the following action
  1. Follow agreed reporting procedures.
  2. Contact ship's agent to get the latest ballast discharge requirements in the state.
  3. Advise the company and request any other information they might hold on ballast water discharge.
  4. Plan for all the above and ensure that safety and operational restrictions are adhered to.
If the Coastal State has no specific requirements for discharge of ballast water take the following action:
  1. Contact ships agent and/or company to obtain latest information on the discharge requirements at port state territory.
  2. Carry out discharge of ballast water as per approved ballast exchange sequence.
  3. Take into consideration safety and operational procedures related to respective discharge.
  4. Keep records and have them readily available for possible inspection.

Ballast Water Management Training

Master and ships ballast water management officers should be aware of the key responsibilities of handling ballast water. They must also ensure that all crew members in Ballast Water operations understand the Ballast Water Management Plan and are trained on how to implement it safely. All training must be logged in the Training Log. All Ballast Water Management training should refer to ship-specific Ballast Water Management Plan. Ship's officers and ratings engaged in ballast water exchange at sea must be aware of what is expected of them.
Ballast water discharging

The training must cover following :
  1. The ship's pumping arrangements including ballast arrangements.
  2. The locations of air and sounding pipes of all ballast tanks.
  3. The positions of all ballast tank suctions and pipelines.
  4. The overboard discharge arrangements and openings for release of water on deck.
  5. Inspection and maintenance for ensuring that sounding pipes are clear and non-return devices and air pipes are in good order.
  6. The times and circumstances required to undertake the various ballast water exchange operations.
  7. The methods used for ballast water exchange at sea.
  8. The related safety precautions and associated hazards.
  9. The method of on-board ballast water record keeping, reporting and recording of routine soundings.
  10. The location and suitable access points for sampling purposes.
  11. The operation of Ballast Water Treatment System as per manufacturers and type approval specification, including performance monitoring , calibration of sensors, sampling etc.

Reasons for not exchanging ballast water

If a ballast water procedure is required but cannot be done for any reason, the Master must report this to the Port State Authority as soon as possible. The most common reasons for not exchanging ballast water include:
  1. ballast water is cleaned and treated on board
  2. ballast water is retained on board
  3. discharge to a reception facility
  4. a time / location-restricted route
  5. weather / tidal conditions
  6. ship's design and equipment
  7. ship's safety reasons: The IMO requires that Port States should not require any action of the Master which imperils the lives of those on board or the safety of the ship.

Related info :
  1. Marine environment protection recommended guideline

  2. Ballast water management convention recommended guideline for environmental protection

  3. Pollution by ballast water

  4. Impact of ballast water at marine environment

  5. Ballast water treatment system components

  6. Ballast water management USCG final rules

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