By Ryan Skinner (email)
Some would say it's unglamourous. It looks like a pump, (often) smells like a chemical and feels like a quick route to the poor house. But the real money in ballast water management systems is the liability. Ballast water from shipping has wiped out entire industries, causing damage in the hundreds of millions. Take the zebra mussel, for example.
The IMO finished a ballast water convention in 2004 that promises to fix the problem. It has yet to go into force. Only 18 of the 30 countries needed to ratify it, representing 15.4% of a needed 35%, have done so, according to WWF. They estimate the losses related to failure to ratify the convention at USD 50 billion.
The WWF must know it is a touch facetious here, though, as flag states and shipowners point out that the technology required to meet the convention's standards has not been available. Over the past year that situation has changed. Now as many as four different IMO-approved ballast water management systems are on the market.
Shipowners will not be keen to get a proscription to buy new kit in the million-dollar range when they are in the midst of one of the industry's worst stretches. In fact, it may be that empathy from politicians is delaying ratification of the convention. Those same politicians may change their minds if another (already delicate) fishery bites the dust.
One way or another, ballast water management systems are on the way in. And the technology will have a major impact on shipping, both in terms of outfitting and operations.