Over the years, there have been a number of environmental disasters caused by the discharge of ballast water from ocean-going vessels. These incidents generally came about due to a lack of understanding of what can happen when organisms, planktons, bacteria and species are inadvertently transferred from one part of the world to another.
With the recent ratification of international ballast water regulations, the maritime industry has signed up to a commitment to ensure ballast water is as safe as possible, and this spells good news for the marine environments of the world. While it may prove impossible in practical terms to prevent all movement of invasive species, this development will greatly reduce the potential risks.
It’s the responsibility of everyone in the industry to take this matter seriously, because failure to do so will not only cause further damage, it will also prove to be financially disastrous for the organisations involved; penalties will be hefty, and they are likely to be strictly enforced. Effective, accurate and accountable ballast water management is now an absolute must-have.
For vessel masters, there are several aspects to consider with ballast water management, including:
- Training for all relevant crew members
- Ensuring everyone knows their responsibilities
- Finding out about local regulations for each port
- Keeping accurate records throughout
- Operational procedures for each particular vessel
Every port-to-port voyage is different, of course, and each of them will have their own set of unique circumstances to take into consideration. Vessel masters will know, for example, that ports which are particularly shallow are likely to provide ballast water which contains a great deal of sediment, and with this sediment will come more potential for dangerous cross-contamination at the destination.
Know your ports, know your vessels, know your responsibilities
There will be some destinations which play host to treatment facilities for ballast water, so it can be pumped ashore and treated accordingly, but of course many ports don’t have such a facility. Plans need to be drawn up for the safe discharge of water, and that may mean transferring at sea en route. Effective ballast water management will become increasingly important in the coming years.
One of the key issues facing owners and operators is the need to know what, if any, invasive species are to be found in the tanks on any given voyage. The safest option is to test and monitor on a regular basis, and of course to have the results available for scrutiny should the authorities need to see them. Remaining compliant, and being seen to remain compliant, is crucial for everyone in the industry now.