U.S.-flag Great Lakes carriers oppose IMO ballast convention
A group of U.S.-flag Great Lakes carriers told lawmakers Thursday that an international convention to control invasive aquatic pests in ballast waters should not apply to them.
On Feb. 13, the International Maritime Organization, which the United States is a member, adopted the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water & Sediments. If ratified, the convention would create the first performance standards applicable to ballast water treatment.
Under the convention, all new and existing vessels with ballast tanks would be required to implement ballast water management procedures and meet specific standards before entering a nation’s “exclusive economic zone” (200 miles).
Potential U.S. ratification of the convention comes at the same time Congress is considering the reauthorization of ballast water management provisions in the National Invasive Species Act.
“While I support the goals of the IMO convention, I cannot support its ratification,” testified James H.I. Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers’ Association, before the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation and Water Resources and Environment subcommittees March 25. “This treaty would, for the first time, govern our domestic waterborne commerce if a U.S.-flag vessel transits the waters of another nation in the course of its voyage between two U.S. ports.”
Weakley pointed out that U.S.-flag Great Lakes ships often transit Canadian waters during a Jones Act move. For example, on an inbound transit of the Detroit/St. Clair Rivers, a U.S.-flag Great Lakes ship alternates between U.S. and Canadian waters 17 times, he said.
“This new regulation of domestic Great Lakes shipping is unnecessary,” Weakley added. “U.S.-flag Lakers never leave the system, so their ballast water is not a vector for introduction of new exotics. Our ballast water contains only what is already in the Lakes. We must focus our efforts on preventing new introductions.
“To require U.S.-flag Lakers to treat or exchange their ballast would have no environmental benefit, but would increase the cost of delivering raw materials that fuel the nation’s economy,” Weakley said.
The Lake Carriers’ Association, which represents 15 American companies operating 57 U.S.-flag vessels solely on the Great Lakes, endorses reauthorization of the National Invasive Species Act ballast water provisions (H.R. 1080 and 1081). These provisions recognize that vessels operating in an “enclosed aquatic system” should not be subject to full application of the ballast water regulations that are to come, Weakley said.
However, another group of vessel operators, the Shipping Industry Ballast Water Coalition, believes the IMO convention is the best way to go for the federal government and shipping industry to control the spread of aquatic species.
“We believe the IMO convention should be ratified by the United States and should form the basis of the U.S. national ballast water management program,” testified Joseph J. Cox on behalf the coalition. “The convention, which the U.S. played a leading role in negotiating, has been under development for over a decade and represents an international consensus regarding the starting point for the international regulation of ballast water management aboard ships.”
The coalition’s members include the American Association of Ports Authorities, American Maritime Congress, American Petroleum Institute, American Waterways Operators, Baltic and International Maritime Council, Chamber of Shipping of America, International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, Maritime Institute for Research and Industrial Development, Transportation Institute, and World Shipping Council.
Countries that ratify the IMO ballast convention are expected to comply by 2016.
“The existence of the convention’s performance standard represents the current international consensus as to what will be achievable at the various phased-in implementation dates and the performance standard will establish a much-needed target for technology developers to work towards,” Cox said.
Lawmakers remain cautiously optimistic about the benefits of the IMO convention for containing the spread of aquatic pests, such as ruffe and zebra mussels.
“Many hope the IMO standards will spur the development of sufficient technologies to effectively manage ballast water,” said Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., chairman of the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee. “How the United States decides to address these issues will have a tremendous impact both domestically and internationally because of the U.S.’s dominance in overseas trade as an importing and exporting nation.”