IMO and Shipping Companies Form an Alliance to Minimize Environment Invasive Species Threat

Published Jan 17, 2011 1:09 PM by The Maritime Executive

New global industry alliance aims to prevent marine bio-invasions caused by ships' ballast water.

A Global Industry Alliance (GIA) was launched on March 2,2009) at the Headquarters of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London, to tackle the threats of marine bio-invasions caused by the transfer of alien plants and animals in ships' ballast tanks.

Ballast water is carried in cargo ships to provide needed stability. It is taken onboard at the start of every trip an unladen ship makes and then pumped out on arrival. The Alliance, made up of an innovative partnership between IMO, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and four major private shipping corporations, aims to harness the different skills and expertise brought by these groups in order to develop concrete solutions to this global environmental hazard.

IMO Secretary-General Efthimios Mitropoulos, who exchanged Memoranda of Understanding with the four companies, said he would like to see the GIA serving as a model for more such alliances, "all embracing the goals of corporate social responsibility and addressing the many safety, security and environmental protection issues that characterize today's shipping industry", he said.

"While recognizing that time is not on our side in our fight against invasive species, we should look at this innovative alliance and its expected outcomes as a development that sends an optimistic message to the global community that, while the challenges appear to be significant, they are not insurmountable. With the effective and intelligent use of resources, and through an integrated and collaborative approach, answers to these challenges can and will be found, so that shipping and the environment can strengthen their harmonious relationship, to the benefit of all," he continued.

"The scope of this achievement should not be underestimated; I rank the responsiveness of the international community to this issue as one of the world's best examples of international cooperation on a global environmental issue, on par with how the world took decisive steps to address ozone-depleting substances through the Montreal Protocol" said Andrew Hudson, UNDP's expert on water governance.

According to IMO's findings, an estimated 10 billion tons of ballast water are being carried around the globe each year, and more than 3,000 species of plants and animals are being transferred daily. As a result, a serious environmental threat has developed, caused by the introduction of alien aquatic plants and animals to new ecosystems, which may not be able to deal with the imported species. The damage done by these alien species is costing the world billions of dollars.

In many areas of the world, the effects have been devastating, since, once these invasive species are established, they are extremely difficult to eradicate. For example, the introduction of the comb jelly (mnemiopsis leidyi) to the Black and Azov Seas caused a near extinction of anchovy and sprat fisheries and the introduction of the zebra mussel (dreissena polymorpha) in the Great Lakes required multibillion dollar control and cleaning of underwater structures and pipelines.

Recognizing the significance of the global environmental threat from ballast water transfer of such harmful species, the international community has developed a regulatory framework for ballast water management, culminating in the adoption by IMO Member States, in 2004, of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments.

The problem is due largely to the expansion of seaborne trade and traffic over the last century. When cargo ships are not loaded, they pump sea water into their ballast tanks in order to maintain stability on their way to pick up cargo. Once the ships are loaded with heavy cargo, they discharge the water from within the ship into the sea or ocean. Alien and potentially harmful invasive species from one geographical area are released with the discharged water into another. So far, very little of this ballast water is being managed in a way that minimizes the spread of these marine invaders and new invasions are being recorded at an alarming rate.

The Alliance will contribute to research and development of cost effective ballast water treatment technologies that can be fitted onboard ships. In addition, it will assist with exploring new ship design options such as 'flow thru' ballast tanks and 'ballast-free ships'. The Alliance aims to promote the transfer and diffusion of technology within the industry by opening a ballast water information exchange mechanism, developing training tools targeted at the maritime industry and establishing an industry dialogue forum.

The agreement signed today forming the GIA was initiated by GloBallast Partnerships - a joint initiative founded by IMO, UNDP and GEF. The Alliance is hosted by IMO in London. To date, four major shipping corporations - APL, BP Shipping, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, and Vela Marine International - have signed on to this partnership. More shipping corporations have expressed their interest to join.

GloBallast Partnerships and GIA: http://globallast.imo.org

UNDP - the United Nations Development Program - is the UN's global development network, an organization advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. UNDP is on the ground in 166 countries, working with them on their own solutions to global and national development challenges: www.undp.org

UNDP International Waters: http://www.undp.org/gef/05/portfolio/iw.html

In New York: Stanislav Saling, Tel: +1 212 906 5296; [email protected]