In Depth: Ballast Water Management, an Active Subject

Vast amounts of ballast water are transported over various continents. Ships require this water for stability and manoeuvrability. However, it can hold living and dead organisms unknown to the ecosystem it is or will be pumped into. These organisms can be harmful to the receiving ecosystem. Royal NIOZ on Texel, the Netherlands is part of the European North Sea Ballast Water Opportunity project and they explain more about the issues and developments surrounding this lively topic.

“Steps have to be undertaken to minimise the risks regarding ballast water management”, explains Jan Boon of NIOZ, which stands for the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. This is the National Oceanographic Institution of the Netherlands, founded in 1876. Since 2011, the organisation has been involved in the evaluation and certification of ballast water treatment systems.

Furthermore, they carry out research to assess the efficiency of ballast water treatment installations for certification purposes and assist in the development of proper test protocols, compliance enforcement and monitoring control by the national authorities.

NIOZ is one of the ten knowledge facilities in the world who test water ballast treatment systems. Boon: “The location of our institute near the Marsdiep, where the North Sea and the Wadden Sea come together, means we have a high biodiversity with abundant amounts of organisms for testing. The high diversity is a great advantage, since different species have different sensitivities for different types of treatment. Tests are done in 250 cubic metre tanks simulating the ballast water tanks of a ship. The water is tested after the required five days to determine the amount of live organisms remaining after treatment. Depending on that the ballast water management system either works or it doesn’t.”

Many partners worldwide

IMO, the International Maritime Organization, adopted the Ballast Water Management Convention (BWMC) in 2004 which aims to reduce the risks of the introduction of invasive and sometimes pathogenic species in existing ecosystems, by developing safer and more effective ballast water management systems. To facilitate a smooth introduction of the BMWC, the North Sea Ballast Water Opportunity Project (NSBWO) was funded by the Interreg Ivb programme of the European Union. The NSBWO project is a cooperation consisting of over 40 (sub) partners, including governments, industry, ports and scientific centres. All are located in the North Sea region. This project aims to reach regional cohesion, innovation and develop future strategies in ballast water policies and ballast water management. The project is also coordinated by NIOZ. Boon comments: “This large project is European and made up of countries surrounding the North Sea. Compliance is also important and an official European policy has yet to be established. This will happen in the future.”

Boon: “The BWMC requires that between 2009 and 2016, the majority of ships are equipped with correct ballast water management systems and are obliged to treat ballast water so as to minimise transfer of invasive organisms. The convention will come into force when at least 30 countries, representing 35% of the global ship tonnage, have signed on. At this moment (March 2012, ed.), we have reached a total of 30 countries, but together they represent only 26.5% of the global tonnage. All requirements mentioned in the BWMC will come into force exactly one year after the moment when the 35% criteria will be met. It is expected that this will happen during 2012, which means that soon all ships will have to comply with the Convention from 2013 to 2016. Exemptions might be possible for ships that only sail in areas regarded as one ecosystem. New policies and technologies are required to assist the necessary goals being met.

Since 2001 manufacturers have taken up the challenge of developing systems to treat ballast water. Such treatment systems have to meet very strict requirements that have been set by the Convention, and have to be able to reduce the amount of small organisms in ballast water. Regulation D-2 of the BWMC states that after treatment the number of organisms in ballast water should be reduced to 10/mL for the smallest organisms of ten to 50 micrometres and ten per cubic metre for the slightly larger ones above 50 micrometres. All aspects of ballast water management must be locked in. The knowledge is there, however”, states Boon.


During our interview Boon explains that ballast waters systems work with or without active substances. All systems have to comply with the G8 guideline. To pass the test, a system will need to go through ten tests cycles, one test can be done each week. Testing at NIOZ will be done in both salt and brackish water. Systems also have to be tested on board; this is usually done after land-based testing. Systems that work with active substances have the added issue of the chemicals not being hazardous to the environment at the moment of discharge.

Safety for the environment and the crew is of course paramount. Ballast water management systems that use active substances will have to go through the G9 procedure for approval. This procedure consists of basic, final approval to ensure the utmost safety for humans and the environment.

Proposals for ballast water management systems that use active substances are required to be approved by GESAMP, a group of technical experts. These experts assess the risks in accordance with the procedure and report whether the ballast water management system poses any harm. From 2006 until 2010, 27 basic approvals have been granted and a total of 18 final approvals.


As this subject is important, students are also branching out and developing alongside NIOZ. The Maritiem Instituut De Ruyter, a well-known maritime education centre in the Netherlands had several of their students participate in a project about ballast water management for NIOZ. Levien Faasse, a student from Maritiem Instituut De Ruyter, explains: “Our goal was to make a matrix that companies could use to help with the introduction of ballast water management. The project was very interesting and a challenge to combine with our studies. We finished the project with a presentation at the conference ‘Ballast water, treat or threat’ organized by the NSBWO project during Europort, the big maritime fair that was held in November 2011.”

Rebecca McFedries

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