Following the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the IMO initiated negotiations to consider the possibilities of developing an internationally binding instrument to address the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens in ships’ ballast water. From 1999 onwards, the Ballast Water Working Group, established by the MEPC in 1994, focused on the preparation of a free-standing Convention on control and management of ships’ ballast water and sediments.
The introduction of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens to new environments had been identified as one of the four greatest threats to the world’s oceans (the other three being land-sourced marine pollution, overexploitation of living marine resources and destruction of habitat) and in 2002 the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg called for action at all levels to accelerate the development of measures to address invasive aquatic species in ballast water.
Proper control and management of ships’ ballast water became a major environmental challenge for
IMO and the global shipping industry. At its eighty-ninth session in November 2002, the Council approved the convening of the Diplomatic Conference in early 2004. The decision of the Council was endorsed by the twenty-third session of the Assembly in December 2003 and the International Conference on Ballast Water Management for Ships was held at IMO’s Headquarters in London from 9 to 13 February 2004. The Conference adopted the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (the Ballast Water Management Convention), together with four conference resolutions. For a summary of the content of this instrument please click
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Amendments to the Convention
At its seventy-second session in April 2018, MEPC adopted amendments to the Convention, which entered into force in October 2019. The amendments were:
amendments to regulations A-1 and D-3 of the BWM Convention to make the BWMS Code mandatory (resolution MEPC.296(72));
amendments to regulation B-3 of the BWM Convention, concerning the implementation schedule of ballast water management for ships (resolution MEPC.297(72)), along with a resolution relating to the determination of the survey referred to in regulation B‑3 (resolution MEPC.298(72)); and
amendments to regulations E-1 and E-5 of the BWM Convention, concerning endorsements of additional surveys on the International Ballast Water Management Certificate (resolution MEPC.299(72)).
MEPC 72 also adopted the
BWMS Code (resolution MEPC.300(72)), which superseded the 2016 Guidelines for approval of ballast water management systems (G8) from October 2019.
In addition, at its seventy-fifth session in November 2020, MEPC adopted, through resolution MEPC.325(75), further amendments to the Convention, which entered into force in June 2022. The amendments were:
amendments to regulation E-1 of the BWM Convention to make the commissioning testing of ballast water management systems mandatory; and
amendments to appendix I of the BWM Convention, concerning the form of the International Ballast Water Management Certificate.
Finally, at its eightieth session in July 2023, MEPC adopted, through resolution MEPC.369(80), further amendments to the Convention, which are expected to enter into force in February 2025. These amendments were to appendix II of the BWM Convention, concerning the form of the Ballast Water Record Book.
Further amendments to the BWM Convention may occur now that the Convention is in force, including a possible comprehensive set of amendments after the
ballast water experience‑building phase (EBP) (resolution MEPC.290(71)). Taking into consideration that challenges may arise during the implementation of any new convention that were not foreseen at the time of its adoption, the EBP was established by MEPC at its seventy-first session in July 2017 as a means for carrying out a systematic and evidence-based review of the BWM Convention. Having received the data analysis report of the EBP at its seventy-eighth session in June 2022, the MEPC has initiated the convention review phase of the EBP, and, at its eightieth session in July 2023, approved the associated Convention Review Plan, in line with which a package of amendments to the Convention and its supporting instruments may be approved and adopted in 2026.
Several articles and regulations of the Ballast Water Management Convention refer to guidelines to be developed by the Organization, and Conference resolution 1 invited IMO to develop these guidelines as a matter of urgency and adopt them as soon as practicable, and in any case before the entry into force of the Convention, with a view to facilitating global and uniform implementation of the instrument.
In a commendable effort to facilitate the process, the IMO Member States have developed 14 sets of Guidelines from July 2005 to October 2008, some of which have since been further revised. This outstanding and probably unique output in the working history of MEPC would have not been possible without the dedication of the Ballast Water Review Group (BWRG) and the technical support of the then BLG, FSI and DE Sub-Committees.
It should be noted that, due to the complexity and multi-disciplinary nature of the problem posed by invasive aquatic species in ships' ballast water, knowledge is still gathering in this respect, as also evidenced by the EBP. The Guidelines are therefore kept under review by the MEPC and updated as new technologies emerge and additional knowledge becomes available.
The following is the up-to-date list of Guidelines relating to the uniform implementation of the BWM Convention that have been developed, adopted and, in some cases, revised since MEPC 53:
Guidelines for sediment reception facilities (G1) (resolution MEPC.152(55));
Guidelines for ballast water sampling (G2) (resolution MEPC.173(58));
Guidelines for ballast water management equivalent compliance (G3) (resolution MEPC.123(53));
Guidelines for ballast water management and development of ballast water management plans (G4) (resolution MEPC.127(53)), amended by resolutions MEPC.306(73) and MEPC.370(80));
Guidelines for ballast water reception facilities (G5) (resolution MEPC.153(55));
2017 Guidelines for ballast water exchange (G6) (resolution MEPC.288(71), amended by resolution MEPC.371(80));
2017 Guidelines for risk assessment under regulation A-4 of the BWM Convention (G7) (resolution MEPC.289(71));
2016 Guidelines for approval of ballast water management systems (G8) (resolution MEPC.279(70)) (superseded by the BWMS Code (resolution.300(72)) in October 2019);
Procedure for approval of ballast water management systems that make use of Active Substances (G9) (resolution MEPC.169(57));
Guidelines for approval and oversight of prototype ballast water treatment technology programmes (G10) (resolution MEPC.140(54));
Guidelines for ballast water exchange design and construction standards (G11) (resolution MEPC.149(55));
2012 Guidelines on design and construction to facilitate sediment control on ships (G12) (resolution MEPC.209(63));
Guidelines for additional measures regarding ballast water management including emergency situations (G13) (resolution MEPC.161(56));
Guidelines on designation of areas for ballast water exchange (G14) (resolution MEPC.151(55));
Guidelines for ballast water exchange in the Antarctic treaty area (resolution MEPC.163(56)); and
Guidelines for port State control under the BWM Convention (resolution MEPC.252(67)).
The Guidelines and other relevant guidance documents can be found here. This includes, inter alia, the Procedure for approving other methods of ballast water management in accordance with regulation B-3.7 of the BWM Convention (resolution MEPC.206(62)), the guidance on Information reporting on type approved ballast water management systems (resolution MEPC.228(65)) and the Guidelines for the use of electronic record books under the BWM Convention (resolution MEPC.372(80)); as well as several circulars.