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Implementing the BWM Convention in the UK

The MCA is consulting on draft regulations to implement the Ballast Water Management Convention; what will this mean for the maritime sector?


The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, 2004 (BWM Convention) was adopted by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in 2004 and came into effect in 2017. It aims to control and monitor the discharge of ballast water and sediments from ships, to prevent the spread of non-native species and pathogens, by requiring ballast water exchange and ballast water treatment.

The Convention has a phased approach, with vessels expected to exchange ballast water until they are able to comply with the ballast water treatment requirements. All vessels must be compliant with ballast water treatment rules by 2024.

Additionally, the BWM Convention requires the introduction of new regulations, including new offences and penalties, if there is no existing legislation in place.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is currently consulting on draft regulations to implement the BWM Convention in UK waters.

Introducing the draft regulations will ensure that UK ships, wherever they may be, are compliant with the requirements of the BWM Convention and that ships entering UK waters, regardless of flag, provide the same level of protection from the threat of non-native species and pathogens.

It is anticipated that the regulations will be passed into UK law by the end of 2021 and will see the UK come in line with over 80 countries that have already ratified and introduced legislation to implement the Convention.

The MCA consultation is seeking industry views on whether the impact assessment represents a true reflection of the impact of the proposals, whether the penalties are appropriate and whether the draft guidance is adequate.

What are the implications of ballast water to maritime sector?

The primary impacts concern vessels which will generally need to install approved ballast water treatment systems by 2024. However, there will likely also be some impacts on ports and harbours:

  • Where cleaning or repair of ballast water tanks occurs, predominantly in ports or harbours, operators will be required to provide sediment reception facilities. Penalties for contravention could lead to an unlimited fine;
  • As an alternative to meeting the ballast water discharge standard, ballast water may be discharged to a ballast water reception facility. Ballast water reception facilities will need to consider the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO’s) guidelines for ballast water reception facilities (G5);
  • There will be a new power for harbour masters to detain vessels suspected of contravening BWM regulations, and a new duty on them to report vessels suspected of being in contravention that are attempting to enter or leave the harbour;
  • The Convention could disrupt ports and harbours through additional compliance checks for vessels undertaking ballasting operation and where survey and inspection activities will be required; and
  • The potential impacts of non-compliant vessels on the operation of a facility are not fully understood, nor are the actions that could be taken to alleviate these impacts.

The consultation runs until 6pm BST on 16 June 2021. The consultation documents can be found at the HM Government website.

Prepared by Vicky West, Marine Ecologist


ABPmer routinely advises marine sectors on legislative and policy matters and has a long history supporting government and its agencies in developing the evidence base against which policy decisions are made.