The recent news that Saint Lucia has become the latest flag state to accede the Ballast Water Management Convention will have brought some cheer to IMO, but it comes in the light of some robust criticism from other quarters.
Some of this has come from the International Chamber of Shipping, which used its 2016 Annual Review to criticise IMO’s handling of the Convention, saying: “The main reason why governments have been so reluctant to ratify the Convention has been due to a lack of confidence in the IMO type-approval process and whether, among many other technical questions, the treatment equipment approved in line with current IMO Guidelines would actually work to the satisfaction of Port State Control authorities.”
Another take on this came from Rear Admiral Paul Thomas, US Coast Guard Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy, who, in a blog posted on the Coast Guard Maritime Commons site, offered a defence of the USCG’s decision to set its own type-approval systems that also amounted to an effective criticism of the IMO’s approach to the ballast water issue.
"Robust, mandatory, consistent and transparent type-approval procedures coupled with testing protocols carried out by independent authorities are critical to ensure the complex systems developed to meet environmental stretch goals are, in fact, reliable and effective. Type-approval procedures that are not mandatory, that can be applied inconsistently, and that are not transparent introduce market uncertainty, and make it difficult for regulators to incentivise 'early adopters’,” wrote Admiral Thomas.
He then went on to point to the uncertainty surrounding the 50 IMO-approved systems and contrast it with what is happening with regard to those being tested by the USCG, saying: "By contrast, there are not yet any BWMS approved to the US type-approval standard. But there are many currently being tested. When testing is complete, the results will be transparent, repeatable, reliable and applicable to the full spectrum of ballast water encountered by global shipping. These systems will provide the market certainty that is needed to meet the ballast water challenge in this dynamic, diverse industry.”
The lessons that Admiral Thomas believes can be learned from this situation can and must be applied to other areas of environmental regulation if it is to avoid the pitfalls encountered by the Ballast Water Management Convention. As he says: “Regulations that set stretch goals and demand robust type-approval requirements to drive innovation and investment must also provide flexibility to ensure the right balance between the possible and the practical.”