Giving top priority to the ballast water issue, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is determined to finalise a legal instrument by 2003, despite some major issues still to be dealt with. IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) last week agreed that in order to meet the deadline of a completed Convention on Ballast Water by 2003, it was necessary to convene a special working group on the issue prior to the next MEPC meeting in October this year. This was seen as a major step in advancing the Convention, which became snagged on a number of fundamental issues at last week's meeting.

In response to the work produced at the meeting last week, the MEPC are seeking approval to hold an extra meeting of the working group prior to their 48th meeting in October. In addition to this they have agreed to re-establish a Correspondence Group to further the development of the treatment standards.

More than ten options for a standard were tabled at the meeting and will be reviewed by the Correspondence Group. The fundamental divide is whether the standard should be based on a performance criteria, i.e. removing a percentage of a known quantity entered into the system, or whether it should be based on a water quality standard, which requires the system to discharge a limited amount of organisms regardless of the amount taken up in the ballast. Testing the systems following installation on board would then become an issue, with some States putting the onus on the port state inspectors to check that the equipment worked, whereas other States preferred the option to type approve the system and have it certified, by Class, prior to fitting on board. In the latter case it would be up to the port state control to check certification only and the recognised organisation to issue the certificates following a periodic check of the equipment.

The establishment of the two inter-sessional groups illustrates the commitment of the IMO in meeting the 2003 deadline. On noting the disappointing progress made by the working group at last week's meeting, it was suggested that it was vital to produce a Convention even though all the aspects of the text had not been fully debated. Reference was made to the development and subsequent amendment of MARPOL 73/78, which is still being revised as technology and operational techniques develop. The ballast Convention should be completed on the basis that there would still be amendments and improvements to be made in the future.

What was clear from the discussions that took place last week was that the work for the IMO would certainly not be completed once the Convention had been developed. A number of Guidelines will have to be drawn up to supplement the Convention including guidelines on ballast water exchange, sediment removal and ballast water sampling. Coupled with this the Convention would have to be regularly reviewed to ensure that the standards set for treatment are continually increased to take into account technological advancements in treatment technology. On this basis it was agreed that the standard for ballast water exchange would also be steadily increased to bring it in line with the standards for other treatment technology. Importantly, it was also agreed that ballast water exchange should not be phased out as a treatment option as it is at present the only option available for ships with large amounts of ballast.

One important outcome of last week's meeting was the agreement on the IMO circular on design suggestions for ballast water and sediment options in new ships. The circular was developed in order to benefit owners with newbuildings and gives recommendations regarding the type of ballast water treatment technique that may in the future be fitted on board the vessel. It is intended to provide basic information on what these types of treatment systems may be and what they might require once on board, such as piping and pumping, ballast tank arrangement and power supplies.

INTERTANKO will participate in both the inter-sessional working group and the Correspondence Group. The next meeting of IMO's MEPC will be on 7- 11 October 2002.

Contact: Tim Wilkins: e-mail: