Malaysia: Ballast Water Convention

Keeping aquatic riders at bay
The Star 5 Jan 16;

AROUND 20 years ago, zebra mussels from eastern Europe arrived at the Great Lakes region of the United States via ship ballast. Since then, they have disrupted the food chain there by voraciously feeding on existing food.

The zebra mussels attach themselves to native mussels, causing the latter to be exposed to diseases and parasites. They have also colonised hard surfaces, causing damage to power and water treatment plants, boats, docks, break walls, and engines. Their ability to accumulate up to 300,000 times the amount of pollutants in their tissues causes the toxins to be passed up the food chain, which includes food normally consumed by humans. From the Great Lakes, the mussels have spread to other bodies of water in North America.

Millions of gallons of ballast water from ships are pumped into and discharged by ships all over the world daily as part of the system that stabilises ships. Water taken from one region contains aquatic hitchhikers such as the zebra mussel. When the water is discharged in another region, the hitchhikers find a new home. These organisms could flourish and become invasive or harmful to the native inhabitants, including humans, of the new environment.

In Malaysia, microalgae that caused paralytic shellfish poisoning in Sabah has found its way, likely through ships’ ballast, to peninsular Malaysia. A strain of cholera formerly found only in Bangladesh had spread via ship ballast to South America in 1991, affecting more than a million people and causing the death of more than 10,000.

Invasive alien species are a threat to biodiversity in Malaysia and affect food security. Steps are being taken to regulate ballast water uptake and discharge to minimise the transfer of unwanted organisms through shipping. The 2004 International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM Convention) introduces management tools to address the problem of translocation of invasive alien species via shipping.

The BWM Convention requires all ships over 400GT having keels laid after the convention comes into force to include a type-approved ballast water treatment system that will meet performance standards specified in its Regulation D-2. A time frame has also been set for existing ships over 400GT to adhere to the ruling and to, in the interim, conduct ballast water exchanges in the manner approved by the convention. This applies to ships from, and those entering, Flag States that have ratified the convention. Limited exceptions and exemptions are available.

Malaysia ratified the BWM Convention in 2010 and has been enforcing it in Malaysian waters since 2011 in accordance with the International Maritime Organisation’s implementation schedule. The Marine Department of Malaysia is the focal agency implementing the convention and has, since 2012, in collaboration with universities, port authorities, and port operators, undertaken port baseline studies to establish a marine environment and resources profile in selected ports.

While the BWM Convention contributes towards the protection of Malaysia’s marine environment and resources through reduction of environmental liabilities, it has significant cost implications for shipowners and the maritime administration. As such, a national ballast water management strategy and action plan is being developed by the Maritime Institute of Malaysia (Mima) to facilitate shipowners’ compliance with the convention requirements. Pending the outcome of a ballast water risk assessment, the maritime administration may consider granting exemptions to ships operating exclusively between specified ports and locations. Alternatives, such as discharge to shore ballast water reception facilities or discharge to reception barges, are also being considered.

It is also recognised that the BWM Convention offers new business opportunities for maritime ancillary services industries such as ship builders, ship repairers, equipment manufacturers, ship management services, and training institutions. The national ballast water management strategy will also evaluate how the national R&D strategy can be used to develop home-grown technologies for ballast water treatment systems.

Among Asean member states, only Malaysia and Indonesia have ratified the BWM Convention as of 2015. A regional strategic action plan is being formulated to provide a platform for consultation and exchange of information among stakeholders and to promote regional cooperation and capacity-building activities that will enable the region to benefit from the convention.

Any consideration to exempt ships trading exclusively within Asean must be supported by careful studies, taking into account Malaysia’s interests including opportunities for local shipowners. The BWM Convention is expected to come into force by 2017. As such, there is some urgency to put in place an action plan, both within Malaysia and the Asean region, to implement and facilitate industry compliance with its requirements.

While this could mean extra costs especially to shipowners, it also provides new opportunities for local players. The country’s commitments to other international obligations such as those relating to biological diversity would be better served with this convention being implemented and enforced.

AMY AAI and MAOK LAY YONG

Maritime Institute of Malaysia

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