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Requirements for cleaning the ballast water of ships

Ümarmudil. Foto: Eric Engbretson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Ümarmudil. Foto: Eric Engbretson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

At today’s session, the government approved Estonia’s accession to the convention of the International Maritime Organisation, which aims to protect the marine environment from alien species that may be transported through ballast water from ships.

‘The spread of alien species is one of the five main threats to biological diversity, and ships’ ballast water tanks are part of the problem. A variety of crab and molluscs, which have survived well and endanger the abundance of our local fish species, have reached the Baltic Sea through ballast water. Removing alien species is difficult even from the land and almost impossible from the sea’ said Siim Kiisler, Minister of the Environment.

In the Baltic Sea, an alien species is a plant or animal that has been brought here as a result of human activity, for example, from a ship transporting goods from China. Foreign species become harmful if they endanger the functioning of our natural ecosystem, for example by destroying existing habitats or species through their activity. To date, 140 alien species have been registered in the Baltic Sea. In 2011–2016, 14 new alien species were registered in the Baltic Sea.

A variety of species have reached the Baltic Sea through various ways. The round goby, for example, originating from the Aral, Caspian, and Marmara seas and fished in tons, has become very numerous. It has become commonplace to find the Harris mud crab, originating from North America, in the vicinity of Pärnu Bay. The Polychaeta, which probably reached the Baltic Sea through ballast water, is also found in large numbers in Pärnu Bay, with over 700 specimens per square meter. Recently, Atlantic Rangia from Mexico entered the waters of Estonia.

The global implementation of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments is necessary for limiting the spread of alien species in marine areas and for reducing the environmental and economic damage caused by alien species.

The convention establishes several requirements for ballast water management for vessels to prevent animals and plants in ballast water from entering the marine environment en route to the port of destination or in the port.

The convention concerns approximately 26 larger Estonian ships using ballast water and 1–2 ports with the capacity to clear ballast water containers and receive sediments.

It is possible to grant exemptions from the requirements for handling ballast water for certain ships sailing between designated ports. In Estonia, exemptions will probably be applied for regular ferry lines, such as ships sailing between Tallinn – Helsinki and Tallinn – Stockholm.

The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments is a convention prepared by the International Maritime Organisation. To date, 63 countries representing 68.51% of the world merchant fleet have acceded to the convention.

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