Industry Issues

Ballast Water

The Members of the World Shipping Council (WSC) support an effective solution for managing ballast water discharges from vessels in order to minimize the transfer of aquatic invasive species. WSC has long supported the adoption of environmentally protective and economically achievable international standards for the treatment of ships' ballast water. The development of vessel ballast water management standards has occurred at the international and national levels. These efforts are described in more detail below.

International Maritime Organization (IMO): In February 2004, the IMO adopted the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments. The IMO ballast water management (BWM) Convention contains an environmentally protective numeric standard for the treatment of ship's ballast water before it is discharged. This standard, detailed in Regulation "D-2" of the BWM Convention, sets out the numbers of organisms allowed in specific volumes of treated discharge water. The IMO "D-2" standard is also the standard that has been adopted by the U.S. Coast Guard's ballast water regulations and the U.S. EPA's Vessel General Permit, which are discussed further below.

The BWM Convention also contains an implementation schedule for the installation of IMO member state type approved treatment systems in existing ships and in new vessels, requirements for the development of vessel ballast water management plans, requirements for the safe removal of sediments from ballast tanks, and guidelines for the testing and type approval of ballast water treatment technologies. The BWM Convention will enter into force on September 8, 2017. Learn more about this Convention.

The WSC has joined with other shipowner and operator representatives at the IMO, including the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) and the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO) to address some critical problems with the BWM Convention. Read more about these efforts to address problems with the IMO BWM Convention.

In the U.S., two federal agencies regulate ballast water discharges: the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

U.S. Coast Guard Regulation of Ballast Water Discharges

In March 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard published a final rule to establish a federal ballast water treatment standard for vessels operating in U.S. waters.  The final rule adopts as the federal ballast water discharge standard the "D-2" standard contained in the IMO BWM Convention. This standard was adopted after the Coast Guard, EPA and multiple scientific advisory panels determined that it represents the most environmentally protective standard that could be achieved using commercially available shipboard ballast water treatment technologies.  The Coast Guard ballast water rule will also require vessels discharging ballast water in U.S. waters to be equipped with U.S. Coast Guard type-approved treatment technologies meeting the D-2 standard. This requirement is now being phawed-in for new and existing vessels based on their delivery and drydocking dates, respectively.   Learn more about the progress of U.S. type approval for new technology and about the Alternate Management Systems (AMS) authorized in the final rule.

Learn more from the Coast Guard in its final rule on ballast water management by visiting the US Coast Guard's "Homeport" website at:   Select Environmental on left menu, and Ballast Water Management Program on the Environmental page. 

EPA Regulation of Ballast Water Discharges: Pursuant to a court order vacating a 35-plus year vessel exemption from Clean Water Act (CWA) requirements, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated the first "Vessel General Permit" (VGP) in 2008 requiring commercial vessels of 79 feet or more to obtain CWA National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for most vessel discharges, including ballast water. 

In 2013, EPA promulgated the second VGP, which adopted the same ballast water treatment standard and implementation schedule as were adopted in the 2012 U.S. Coast Guard final rule. The VGP also contains requirements for vessels treating their ballast water to perform regular monitoring of the sytem functionality, equipment calibration, indicator organisms in the treated effluent, and residual biocides (for systems employing biocides to treat the water.) The 2013 VGP does not provide for extensions to the implementation schedule if U.S. type-approved ballast water treatment technology is not available by the vessel's compliance date; however, in December 2013, EPA published an enforcement response policy letter stating that the agency will consider vessels that have obtained a compliance extension for the U.S. Coast Guard a 'low enforcement priority." The VGP ballast water requirements are discussed in further detail in Part 2.2.3 of the 2013 VGP found here.

U.S. State Regulation of Ballast Water Discharges: Some U.S. States have passed laws that regulate ballast water discharges from ships. The difficulty of having different ballast water treatment standards in different U.S. states is that vessels in U.S. international commerce call multiple states in a single voyage and cannot simply swap out one ballast water treatment system for another as they move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Cost for a single ballast water treatment system could easily exceed $1 million per vessel.

The WSC has therefore advocated the adoption of an environmentally protective and economically achievable national ballast water treatment standard. Most U.S. coastal states that previously proposed individual standards that differed from the federal standard rescinded those proposals after both the U.S. Coast Guard and EPA adopted the IMO D-2 treatment standard. California, however, maintains a ballast water treatment standard that is more than 1,000 times the federal standard. The California Assembly, noting a lack of available technology to meet California standards, recently passed a law that delays the compliance schedule for the installation of ballast water treatment technology until 2020.



The WSC has joined with other shipowner and operator representatives at the IMO, to address some critical problems with the BWM Convention before it enters into force.



The Coast Guard final rule requires vessels discharging ballast water in the United States to treat that ballast water with U.S. type approved ballast water treatment technology.