The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM Convention) will enter into force on September 8 next year. This comes after the required number of States, whose combined merchant fleets constitute not less than thirty-five percent of the gross tonnage of the world’s merchant shipping, have ratified the convention and have deposited the requisite instrument of ratification.
The BWM Convention, which was adopted in 2004, aims to prevent the spread of harmful aquatic organisms from one region to another by establishing standards and procedures for the management and control of ships’ ballast water and sediments. This convention is very important for the Philippines because our archipelagic waters have critical marine protected areas that are vital for the fishing and aquaculture industries such as the seaweeds farms and fish cages, especially in the southern area. We need to protect our waters from non-indigenous predatory invasive marine organisms and pathogens.
The Philippines has started to take steps to ratify the BWM convention. The initiative is facilitated by the technical assistance extended by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) through their joint project to “Assist East Asian Countries in Ratifying and Implementing IMO Instruments for the Protection of the Marine Environment.” The BWM and the Anti-Fouling System (AFS) Convention were the two priority conventions identified by the Philippines under the project.
The Filipino Shipowners’ Association (FSA) has long been urging the government to ratify the BWM convention, citing the benefit enjoyed by Parties to the convention in respect of exemptions granted to ships that operate exclusively between specified ports or locations. Such exemption may find relevance for Philippine-flagged ships operating in Asean ports, subject to the conclusion of bilateral or regional agreements between or among parties.
The BWM convention was a major agenda item in the recently concluded 70th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 70) last October 24 to 28 at the IMO Headquarters in London. MEPC 70, among other discussions, reviewed the guidelines for the approval of the BWM system and considered proposals for the so-called “Same Risk Area” where exemptions could be applied.
The Philippine delegation, led by Ambassador Gilberto Asuque who serves as the Permanent Representative to IMO and representatives from the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) actively participated in MEPC 70.
The concerned agencies, i.e. MARINA on certification of Philippine-flagged ships with BWM systems, PCG on its port state control inspection duties on BWM equipment aboard ships including the analysis of ballast water, and the PPA on the provision of reception facilities for the discharge of ballast water sediments resulting from the washing of the ballast holds and port clearances, should now consider the way forward on the BWM convention.
I reiterate an earlier call for government to accelerate the steps towards ratification of conventions relating to the protection of the marine environment. Protection of the environment from ship-generated pollution is a fundamental obligation of all IMO Member States and becoming Party to the BWM convention serves as an unequivocal statement by the Philippines in keeping its commitment for a sustainable environment.