Shipping and Ballast Water

Shipping and Ballast Water

The OSPAR Maritime Area contains some of the busiest sea lanes in the world. The area handles 90% of EU external trade and around 35% of trade between EU countries. There is also a huge amount of through-traffic. Both the number of ships and the quantities of cargo are growing rapidly as trade has grown and alternatives to road transport have been promoted. There has been an increase in the number of ships, the amount of cargo carried and the size of ships. Although maritime transportation is considered to be a comparatively environmentally friendly means of transport, shipping also has impacts on the marine environment. Problems include:

  • accidental or illegal pollution with oil or Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS);
  • the introduction of alien invasive species via ballast water;
  • air pollution emissions;
  • toxic substances from anti-fouling paints;
  • pollution from marine litter.

One of the key areas that OSPAR has focused on in recent years is the issue of invasive species. Over 160 non-indigenous species have been identified in the OSPAR area. Some of the main routes for these unintended introductions are through the discharge of ballast water (and the sediments that it carries) and fouling on ships’ hulls. The risk of new species introductions is related to the amount of ballast water discharged, the frequency of ship visits and the match between environmental conditions where ballast water originated and where it is discharged. With increasing ship traffic there is a higher risk that new species will be introduced. Faster ships and shorter journey times mean that organisms have a greater chance of surviving the voyage.

Non-indigenous species can severely affect the structure of ecosystems. For example, the comb jelly (Mnemiopsis leidyi) which feeds on zooplankton and fish eggs was introduced to the Black Sea through ballast water in the 1980s and has been associated with dramatic changes in the pelagic food web and the collapse of commercial anchovy fisheries. There is a need for OSPAR countries to ratify and implement the IMO Ballast Water Management Convention, which is yet to come into force, and to assess the risk of new species introductions.

As shipping is a key vector of invasive species and as a first step towards reducing the risk of introductions, OSPAR worked with the Helsinki (HELCOM) and Barcelona Conventions to put in place voluntary guidelines for the shipping industry that request vessels entering the waters concerned to exchange all their ballast tanks at least 200 nautical miles from the nearest land in water at least 200 metres deep. The General Guidance on the Voluntary Interim application of the D1 Ballast Water Exchange Standard was agreed by all Contracting Parties, together with the European Union, and entered into force on 1 October 2012.

In preparation for the entry into force of the IMO Ballast Water Management Convention, OSPAR has continued to work with HELCOM and in 2015 adopted the Joint Harmonised Procedure for the Contracting Parties of HELCOM and OSPAR on the granting of exemptions under the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, Regulation A-4 (OSPAR Agreement 2015-01). This sets out a common risk assessment and monitoring approach for the granting of exemptions to vessels under the convention, with the aim of minimising the risk to the environment. It includes an online Joint Decision Support Tool, which will support the decision making process both for national administrations and industry based on the Joint Harmonised Procedure. The online tool is based on a database of port and environmental monitoirng data and is administered by the HELCOM and OSPAR Secretariats.