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Taking on ballast water
Regulatory environment
The market place
Shipping industry
Photo - Ship discharging ballast water


Since the beginning of shipping, ships have transported organism from sea to sea. These organisms vary from bacteria and viruses to mussels and fish. As ships have gotten larger and faster, many more of these organisms have been able to populate in their new locations. These “invasive species” cause billions of dollars of damage in losses to the aquaculture and agriculture of their new locations because their normal enemies are often not transported with them.

Taking on ballast water

Ships take on ballast water in port to offset weight displacement of the ship while loading and unloading. Water is pumped into holding tanks throughout the length of the vessel.  It is during this process that "Aquatic Nuisance Species" (ANS) are brought on board and ultimately transported around the world. 

The difficulties in solving this problem include:

No system is in place for killing these organisms at the high rates and/or volumes 
of ballast discharge desired by the ship management

Most proposed systems involve the use of chemicals that create their own removal 

Systems used for potable water disinfection usually consume too much space and  
energy to be economical for shipboard use

The problems are created by ships and boats of all sizes and a solution needs to take 
into account all of these sources of invasive species

The most economical solution to date has been to exchange this water in the open sea (a very dangerous ship - structural problem) for water that contains fewer problem organisms.

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The greatest impediment to effectively controlling ANS introductions is the current lack of technical solutions to remove ANS from ballast water discharges, according to the draft. While mid-ocean ballast water exchange may offer some relief from ANS introductions, it has significant shortcomings. It is not effective in removing 100 percent of organisms in ballast water, it can involve significant safety risks to vessels during adverse weather, it cannot be practically applied to most domestic US traffic, and it is difficult to inspect for compliance.

“Ballast Water Treatment Technologies Sought”
Federal Register - September 27, 2001.


Regulatory Environment

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and their counterparts in other countries have been attempting to invoke new regulations almost daily as a temporary “band aid” to stop this invasion. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is currently developing international standards requiring action to control this problem. Damage to U.S. Coastal waterways has already reached catastrophic proportions (an example is the Great Lakes).  

United States

 In September of 2001, the EPA began talking public comment on their proposed regulations. In September 2002, these hearings ended, and the proposed regulations are to be implemented on a scale up beginning in 2003. Previously, congress passed the U.S. National Invasive Species Act of 1996 which requires ballast water treatment. Ballast water exchange has not proven to be effective due to compliance capabilities.


Australia Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture Commission has been perhaps the most aggressive in implementing and enforcing ballast water management practices and reporting. Several invasive species have caused significant economic damage and the Great Barrier Reef has been threatened by some. 


Asian species seem particularly harmful when transported to other parts of the globe. Much of the focus in Asia has been on preventing the intake of these species. Japan and Taiwan have been the most aggressive countries in planning the implementation of the IMO guidelines.

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The Market Place

This is a market that will grow rapidly in the next two years. Regulations and increased awareness of the costs associated will require that all ocean going vessels have the capacity to disinfect water prior to release. The IMO through their GloBallast organization commissioned a complete global market analysis done by Royal Haskoning in late 2001. The results are summarized below.

Advantages of this market are:

It will grow from almost nothing to over a billion dollars a year in less than 5 years

There are no clear technology winners

The differences in ship sizes; routes, wealth and location of the ships owners indicate 
that several types of systems and companies will participate in a share of the market.

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Shipping Industry

Photo - Ship in open seaLloyds Register of Ships currently lists a total of 91,287 commercial vessels globally.  Not all vessels are affected by ballast water regulations.  With these removed, the global figure for ‘ballast relevant’ vessels is around 47,228. Immediate target for regulatory compliance are those vessels under 1,000 deadweight tons. This leaves a total of 33,392 vessels that will face immediate regulatory compliance on ballast water, once the regulations are passed.  With these ships facing regulatory compliance, the Global Ballast Water Management Board estimates water treatment system sales to be over $7 Billion in the next ten years.  After that, newly built vessels will represent approximately $1.6 Billion in sales (this is based on on-board treatment systems costing approximately $310,000 per vessel).

Follow link to view graph of
Global Sales by Ship

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This page was last updated on March 04, 2003