Well before my time, I must stress, ships running light into the Baltic from the ports of the Low Countries used to ballast with the small house-bricks that distinguish buildings in those parts. It accounts for why port cities in the Baltic had a sort of Dutch look about them. Deep water sailing ships would use sand and there are beaches in the Antipodes which were unloaded from wool clippers before they filled up for home. And in more recent times, general cargo ships running west over the North Atlantic in winter would load a few thousand of tons of coal slag, just to be on the safe side.

But water ballast, first carried by a deep thinking UK East Coast collier owner in the middle of the 19th century, became the ballast of choice, which is why, we are told, we have Asian carp in the Chicago canal system and billions of tonnes of Zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, goodness knows what else all around the ports and coasts of the world.  It is why we have the IMO Ballast Water Management Convention, awaiting its final signatures, but attracting controversy to the last.

Ship-owners entirely properly, are practical people and look at the convention with practical eyes. They are worried that people will invest billions in new equipment, in the belief that it is fully compliant and then find that it isn’t. They are worried that there will be no “grandfathering” of ballast management equipment bought in the belief that it satisfied all current criteria, and then discover that the goalposts have been moved. They know a great deal about port state control in various parts of the world and have concerns that what is found in their ballast tanks will be used to make life very difficult for them.

The ICS has been leading a coalition of industry associations on this vexed subject and is proposing a resolution at the upcoming MEPC meeting in October that could address some of these concerns. Will it be listened to? If it isn’t, it could be sand, bricks and coal slag in the lower holds again.

Author: Michael Grey                       Source: