Solutions for Ballast Water Management

The Chamber is seeking solutions to ballast water management in the bi-national Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region that are operationally and economically achievable. 

When not fully loaded, cargo ships must take on water (ballast) to maintain stability. Once pumped onboard, ballast water is stored in narrow cavities (ballast tanks) built into the hull of a ship. Ballast water pumped onboard in one port may inadvertently contain aquatic organisms and they could be released if the ballast is discharged in another port.

In order to prevent the introduction of invasive species, discharge rules on ballast water are regulated domestically and internationally. Regulations are in place in both Canada and the United States for vessels arriving from overseas. As well, regulations in the United States set requirements for vessels operating in the Great Lakes and coastal waters.

No new aquatic nuisance species due to shipping since 2006

The Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Seaway has the most stringent ballast water management and inspection measures in the world. A joint Canada – U.S. inspection program has been in place since 2006 that inspects arriving vessels from overseas. Ocean-going vessels must exchange ballast and flush tanks before arriving in domestic waters. Since this program started, no new aquatic invasive species have been discovered in the Great Lakes region due to shipping.

Globally, on September 8, 2017, the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments entered into force. Canada is a Party to the Convention and Transport Canada will be updating its regulations to meet the Convention’s obligations.

The United States is not a Party to the Convention, but implements most of its provisions. On December 4, 2018, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act entered into force requiring the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard to each develop regulations, which is expected to take at least four years. In the interim, existing requirements of both agencies remain in place. Under this Act, states can no longer set their own individual standards.

Meeting the challenge of treating ballast water in domestic waters

To date, no known type-approved ballast water management systems have been proven to reliably operate in Great Lakes conditions and trading patterns. Systems have been approved under type-approval processes that meet U.S. Regulations and the IMO Ballast Water Management System Code.

However, a system must be evaluated under actual operating conditions of domestic waters. It must consistently meet discharge standards, whether the ship is in the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence or Canadian Arctic, and work within the voyage lengths and cargo operations required of the domestic trades market.

CMC members are actively reviewing ballast water treatment systems to identify ones that may best meet their specific requirements. Nevertheless, the selection of a suitable ballast water treatment system remains a significant challenge. As Transport Canada prepares to updates its regulations, CMC has highlighted the need for time to find systems that work, a compliance approach that will recognize a ship’s ‘best efforts’ at compliance once a system is fitted, and a complementary USCG extension policy to align compliance schedules.

CMC will be working with regulators in Canada and the U.S. to bring attention to these challenges and recognize efforts by CMC members to meet them. This work is to ensure new regulatory requirements in both countries are compatible for CMC members.