In response to an article that ran in the daily newspaper Le Devoir on March 18, 2017, the Marine Information Bureau (MIB) would like to clarify a few things regarding ballast water management measures applicable to vessels navigating in Canada.
Ballast water – What is it?
Ballast water is essential for the safe operation of merchant ships, allowing them to navigate at the proper depth and ensuring their stability. Ballasting is necessary when a vessel carries heavy cargo in one hold and a lighter load in another, when it is travelling empty or when the sea is rough (Transport Canada). Ballast water is pumped directly into the ballast tanks from the sea. The amount of water to be pumped into the tanks depends primarily on weather conditions, the volume of cargo on the ship, and the vessel’s itinerary. As the vessel is loaded, it must discharge all or part of its ballast water in order to maintain ideal buoyancy. This ballast water is discharged into the sea. (Port of Montréal).
When ballast waters are discharged, non-indigenous, potentially invasive, aquatic species may be introduced. However, international and Canadian regulations have been in effect for a number of years now (2004 and 2006 respectively) to address this problem.
Current Canadian regulations
In Canada, the Ballast Water Control and Management Regulations came into force in 2006.
In keeping with these Regulations, ships arriving from the ocean into waters under Canadian jurisdiction must:
- Exchange ballast waters offshore and, if the vessel is headed for the Great Lakes, flush the residual waters, and/or
- Treat the ballast waters (in keeping with International Maritime Organisation standards), and/or
- Keep the ballast waters on board, and/or
- Discharge them into a port reception facility.All vessels must submit a Ballast Water Reporting Form. Transport Canada inspectors board vessels to check their documents and ensure that their crews are aware of ballast water management procedures. All ballast water reports are checked, year-round, without exception.
As concerns the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence System, all vessels entering the St. Lawrence Seaway from outside Canada’s exclusive economic zone are inspected under a binational program before they enter the Great Lakes (Transport Canada). The ballast water management requirements in the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence System are among the strictest in the world. Joint US Coast Guard, Transport Canada Marine Safety & Security (TCMSS) and Seaway ballast water regulations require:
- Saltwater flushing
- Detailed documentation
- More inspections and civil sanctions (2016 ballast water management report, Great Lakes Seaway Ballast Water Working Group)
Internationally, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), a UN agency, has been studying invasive species originating from ballast waters since the 1980s. Guidelines for addressing the problem were adopted in 1991 and the IMO then developed the Ballast Water Management Convention, which was adopted in 2004 and will come into force on September 8, 2017 (IMO). Under the Convention, ships will be required to manage their ballast waters to eliminate or neutralize the harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens found in ballast waters and sediments, or to prevent them from entering these waters and sediments or being discharged with them. In addition to flushing ballast water tanks with saltwater, all vessels constituting a contamination risk will have to install a system on board to treat their ballast waters and eliminate undesirable organisms.
Results of Canadian regulations
Independent research carried out by the Fisheries and Oceans Canada – Science sector shows that the risk of introducing aquatic invasive species into the Great Lakes through ballast waters has been reduced to extremely low levels. Scientific research has shown that this program is effective, and researchers have recommended that it be extended to other freshwater ecosystems throughout the world (Transport Canada).