Ballast Water Regulation

Why the need for regulation?

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The problem arises when a vessel’s ballast water contains marine life. The transfer of invasive marine species into new environments via ships’ ballast water has been identified as a significant environmental threat.

A ship may be subject to a number of different legislation relating to ballast water management depending on location.

Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention

The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments – more commonly known as the Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention – was adopted by IMO in 2004.

It requires all ships of 400 GT and above trading internationally to manage their ballast water and sediments to certain standards and maintain a ship-specific ballast water management plan.

There are two performance standards:

  • D-1 which is based on ballast water exchange
  • D-2 which addresses ballast water treatment systems and specifies the levels of viable organisms that are allowed to remain in the water after treatment.

Following the entry into force in 2017, vessels whose keels are laid on or after the 18 September 2017 must comply with the D-2 standard. However, a period of transition currently exists which allows existing vessels using the D-1 method ballast water exchange as the method of compliance to continue this way.

Existing vessels have up until the next IOPP (International Oil Pollution Prevention Certificate) renewal survey to comply. After this IOPP renewal survey, the vessel must meet the discharge standard D-2 by using a type approved treatment plant.

United States

The United States are not a signatory to the IMO BWM Convention and enforce their own regulations. Three separate laws passed by Congress give authority to regulate ballast water management to two separate federal government agencies – the Coast Guard (USCG) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

USCG Final Rule

In 2012, the USCG issued the final rule “Standards for Living Organisms in Ships’ Ballast Water Discharged in U.S. Waters”.

The rule applies to any ships planning to discharge ballast water in US waters. It addresses ballast water exchange, treatment and sediment management.

The timeline for compliance with the USCG final rule is shown in the below table:

Ship’s BW capacity

Date of construction

Date of compliance

New ships

All On or after 1 Dec 2013 On delivery

Existing ships

Less than  1,500 m3 Before 1 Dec 2013 First scheduled dry-docking after 1 Jan 2016
1,500 – 5,000 m3 Before 1 Dec 2013 First scheduled dry-docking after 1 Jan 2014
Greater than 5,000 m3 Before 1 Dec 2013 First scheduled dry-docking after 1 Jan 2016

To comply with the USCG rule, vessels needing to discharge ballast water in US waters have the following options:

  • Zero discharge.
  • Discharge using a USCG approved ballast water treatment system.
  • Discharge to a shore reception facility or to another vessel for the purpose of treatment.
  • Ballast with potable water from a US public water system.

The USCG regulations have additional requirements that go beyond those of the IMO BWM Convention that include:

  • It is a requirement to submit a report form 24 hours before calling at a US port
  • The vessel specific ballast water management plan must also include the following:
    • Sediment removal through regular cleaning of ballast tanks
    • Rinsing of anchors and chains when weighing anchor
    • Regular hull cleaning
    • Maintain records of ballasting and fouling

AMS and the USCG Extension Process

Vessels entering US waters without an approved system can make a request to the USCG for an extension. The vessel can then request permission to achieve compliance through the ballast water exchange method or they can use an alternate management system (AMS) which has been accepted by the USCG.

Acceptance of an AMS is temporary (maximum five years) and does not mean it will be given USCG type approval in the future. Furthermore the USCG has not given AMS acceptance to every IMO D-2 approved system.

The criteria for granting extensions have become much stricter recently. When requesting an extension, a shipowner must now provide an explicit statement supported by documentary evidence detailing the reasons for non-compliance, such as delays in commercial availability of the treatment systems.

EPA – Vessel General Permit (VGP)

The discharge of ballast in US waters also comes under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) of the Clean Water Act. Since 2013, the vessel general permit (VGP) system has included ballast water discharges under ‘discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel’.

Additional requirements for the current VGP include calibration of sensors and periodical sampling of biological indicators and residual biocides.

However, the VGP will not be reissued. The existing 2013 VGP requirements are expected to remain in force until EPA introduces new regulations. The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (see below) is allowing up to four years for these new regulations to come into force.

Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA)

This Act was signed into U.S. law in 2018 and impacts the USCG Final Rule and the Vessel General Permit (VGP) system.

VIDA provides a new framework. EPA now leads on establishing standards on ballast water and the USCG leads on monitoring and enforcement.

Bear in mind that individual US states may adopt more stringent legislation that is above and beyond federal regulations.


Different countries or geographical regions have adopted particular requirements or restrictions on ballast water discharge.

Some of these countries may not be signatories to the IMO BWM Convention whereas other may be signatories but have adopted more stringent measures above and beyond those of the Convention.

Lloyd’s Register has produced a useful guide on these requirements and can be found at:

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