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Guide to Ship Sanitation. 3rd edition. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2011.

Cover of Guide to Ship Sanitation

Guide to Ship Sanitation. 3rd edition.

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5Ballast water

5.1. Background

This chapter deals with the management of ballast water, including its storage and safe disposal.

5.1.1. Health risks associated with ballast water on ships

Many ships use water as ballast to maintain stability and navigate safely, carrying from 30% to 50% of the total cargo in ballast water. This represents a volume that varies from a few hundred litres up to more than 10 million litres per ship. Therefore, this water presents an important risk to human health, with the possibility of introducing new endemic diseases and spreading disease by transferring pathogens and harmful organisms. In this context, more than 7000 marine species travel daily, and approximately 10 billion tonnes of ballast water are transported annually by ship. Concern regarding transfer of ballast water and sediments from ships has increased, and there is a theoretical possibility of transporting hazards such as toxigenic Vibrio cholerae O1 and O139, which might then be associated with cholera outbreaks in port areas.

5.1.2. Standards

The Marine Environment Protection Committee has adopted, since 1993, voluntary guidelines for the prevention of risks from unwanted organisms through ballast water and sediments from ships. In 1997, the IMO Assembly adopted, through Resolution A.868(20), the Guidelines for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water to Minimize the Transfer of Harmful Aquatic Organisms and Pathogens (IMO, 1998).

The IMO International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments1 was adopted in February 2004. The objective of this convention is to prevent, minimize and ultimately eliminate risks to the environment, human health, property and resources arising from the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens through the control and management of ships' ballast water and sediments; to provide guidance to avoid unwanted side-effects from the control measures put in place; and to encourage development in related knowledge and technology. The measures for inspection and control of the sanitary risks of ballast water tank sediments must consider the procedures established in the IMO International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments. From 2009, but not later than 2016, the convention requires the establishment of a ballast water management system on board ships, which will replace the uncontrolled ballast water uptake and discharge operations common until then. In future, ballast water will have to be treated on board before being discharged into the marine environment, in compliance with the Ballast Water Performance Standard in Regulation D-2 of the convention.

Parties to the convention are given the right to take, individually or jointly with other Parties, more stringent measures with respect to the prevention, reduction or elimination of the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens through the control and management of ships' ballast water and sediments, consistent with international law.

5.2. Guidelines

This section provides user-targeted information and guidance, identifying responsibilities and providing examples of practices that can control risks. Two specific guidelines (situations to aim for and maintain) are presented, each of which is accompanied by a set of indicators (measures for whether the guidelines are met) and guidance notes (advice on applying the guidelines and indicators in practice, highlighting the most important aspects that need to be considered when setting priorities for action).

In some cases, ballast water treatment systems have failed to perform as required, resulting in unsafe situations. Therefore, reliance should not be placed on treatment and management systems alone. Multiple ballast management barriers should be actively maintained, including:

  • filling with ballast water from safe environments wherever practicable;
  • matching ballast treatment facilities to their required capacities;
  • maintaining sound practices in discharging ballast water.

Staff at ports and ship crews need to be adequately trained in the protection of the environment, safe operation (including collection, handling and disposal of wastes) and relevant legislation.

5.2.1. Guideline 5.1: Ballast water management

Guideline 5.1—A ballast water management plan is designed and implemented.

Indicators for Guideline 5.1

  1. An approved ballast water management plan is in place and reviewed regularly.
  2. Ballast water management requirements and practices are carried out as per the approved plan.
  3. A ballast water record book is kept, with accurate records maintained.
  4. Audit measures are in place and adhered to.

Guidance notes for Guideline 5.1

Ships are required to implement a ballast water management plan approved by the administration (Regulation B-1 of the IMO International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments). The ballast water management plan is specific to each ship and includes a detailed description of the actions to be taken to implement the ballast water management requirements and supplemental ballast water management practices.

Ballast water management systems must be approved by the administration in accordance with IMO guidelines for the approval of ballast water management systems (Resolution MEPC.174(58)). These include systems that make use of chemicals or biocides, make use of organisms or biological mechanisms, or alter the chemical or physical characteristics of the ballast water.

Ships must have a ballast water record book (Regulation B-2) to record when ballast water is taken on board, circulated or treated for ballast water management purposes and discharged into the sea. It should also record when ballast water is discharged to a reception facility and accidental or other exceptional discharges of ballast water.

Ships are required to be surveyed and certified (Article 7—Survey and Certification) and may be inspected by port State control officers (Article 9—Inspection of Ships) who can verify that the ship has a valid certificate, inspect the ballast water record book and/or sample the ballast water. If there are concerns, a detailed inspection may be carried out, and “the Party carrying out the inspection shall take such steps as will ensure that the ship shall not discharge Ballast Water until it can do so without presenting a threat of harm to the environment, human health, property or resources”.

The specific requirements for ballast water management are contained in Regulation B-3—Ballast Water Management for Ships:

  • Ships constructed before 2009 with a ballast water capacity of between 1500 and 5000 cubic metres must conduct ballast water management that at least meets the ballast water exchange standards or the ballast water performance standards until 2014, after which time it shall at least meet the ballast water performance standard.
  • Ships constructed before 2009 with a ballast water capacity of less than 1500 or greater than 5000 cubic metres must conduct ballast water management that at least meets the ballast water exchange standards or the ballast water performance standards until 2016, after which time it shall at least meet the ballast water performance standard.
  • Ships constructed in or after 2009 with a ballast water capacity of less than 5000 cubic metres must conduct ballast water management that at least meets the ballast water performance standard.
  • Ships constructed in or after 2009 but before 2012, with a ballast water capacity of 5000 cubic metres or more shall conduct ballast water management that at least meets the standard described in regulation D-1 or D-2 until 2016 and at least the ballast water performance standard after 2016.
  • Ships constructed in or after 2012, with a ballast water capacity of 5000 cubic metres or more shall conduct ballast water management that at least meets the ballast water performance standard.

5.2.2. Guideline 5.2: Ballast water treatment and disposal

Guideline 5.2—Ballast water is safely treated and disposed of.

Indicators for Guideline 5.2

  1. Disposal of ballast water is carried out safely.
  2. Overboard discharge of ballast water is carried out only within permitted bounds.

Guidance notes for Guideline 5.2

1. Disposal of ballast water

Ships are not generally permitted to discharge ballast water, bilge water or any other liquid containing contaminating or toxic wastes within an area from which water for a water supply is drawn or in any area restricted from the discharge of wastes by any national or local authority. Overboard discharge in harbours, ports and coastal waters is subject to the regulations of the governing authorities in these areas. Sewage, food particles, putrescible matter and toxic substances must not be discharged to the bilge.

The IMO International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments has defined a ballast water exchange standard and a ballast water performance standard.

As per Regulation D-1—Ballast Water Exchange Standard, ships performing ballast water exchange shall do so with an efficiency of 95% volumetric exchange. For ships exchanging ballast water by the pumping-through method, pumping through three times the volume of each ballast water tank shall be considered to meet the standard described. Pumping through less than three times the volume may be accepted, provided that the ship can demonstrate that at least 95% volumetric exchange is met.

As per Regulation D-2—Ballast Water Performance Standard, ships conducting ballast water management shall discharge fewer than 10 viable organisms per cubic metre greater than or equal to 50 µm in minimum dimension and fewer than 10 viable organisms per millilitre less than 50 µm in minimum dimension and greater than or equal to 10 µm in minimum dimension; and discharge of the indicator microbes shall not exceed the specified concentrations.

The indicator microbes, as a human health standard, include, but are not limited to:

  • toxicogenic Vibrio cholerae (O1 and O139): less than 1 cfu/100 ml or less than 1 cfu/g wet weight zooplankton samples;
  • Escherichia coli: less than 250 cfu/100 ml;
  • intestinal enterococci: less than 100 cfu/100 ml.

Other methods of ballast water management may also be accepted as alternatives to the ballast water exchange standard and ballast water performance standard, provided that such methods ensure at least the same level of protection of the environment, human health, property or resources and are approved in principle by the IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee.

Under Article 5—Sediment Reception Facilities, Parties undertake to ensure that ports and terminals where cleaning or repair of ballast tanks occurs have adequate reception facilities for the intake of sediments. Barges and/or trucks for the reception of liquid wastes or shore connections at ports to receive these wastes into a sewer system are typically provided at ports. Where the port servicing area or barge does not provide a hose and suitable connections to receive liquid wastes, a ship must provide a special hose and connections large enough to allow rapid discharge of the wastes to sewer or other suitable point. This hose needs to be durable and impervious and have a smooth interior surface. It must be of a fitting different from that of the potable water hose or other water-filling hose, and it must be labelled “FOR WASTE DISCHARGE ONLY”. After use, the hose must be cleaned, disinfected and stored in a convenient place labelled “WASTE DISCHARGE HOSE”.

2. Overboard discharge of ballast water

Under Regulation B-4—Ballast Water Exchange of the IMO International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments, all ships using ballast water exchange should:

  • whenever possible, conduct ballast water exchange at least 200 nautical miles from the nearest land and in water at least 200 metres in depth, taking into account Guidelines developed by IMO;
  • in cases where the ship is unable to conduct ballast water exchange as above, this should be as far from the nearest land as possible, and in all cases at least 50 nautical miles from the nearest land and in water at least 200 metres in depth.

When these requirements cannot be met, areas where ships can conduct ballast water exchange may be designated. All ships shall remove and dispose of sediments from spaces designated to carry ballast water in accordance with the provisions of the ships' ballast water management plan (Regulation B-4).

Copyright © World Health Organization 2011.

All rights reserved. Publications of the World Health Organization can be obtained from WHO Press, World Health Organization, 20 Avenue Appia, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland (tel: +41 22 791 2476; fax: +41 22 791 4857; email: tni.ohw@sredrokoob). Requests for permission to reproduce or translate WHO publications—whether for sale or for noncommercial distribution—should be addressed to WHO Press, at the above address (fax: +41 22 791 4806; email: tni.ohw@snoissimrep).

Bookshelf ID: NBK310820

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