JAMAICA is yet to accede to a Ballast Water Management Convention to regulate the damaging effect of ballast water on the country's marine life, and potentially public health, despite a commitment to have done so by 2011.
Ballast water is often taken on board in one part of the world and discharged in another — an operation that usually takes place in or near ports, where marine biological diversity is richest. It is estimated that the merchant shipping fleet transports up to 12 billion tonnes of ballast water around the globe annually, the disposal of which continues to contribute to the transfer of marine-invasive species, such as the lionfish.
The convention was adopted in 2004 by member states of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which urged Caribbean nations and the wider Americas to ratify it as it seeks to police the environmental threat.
Bertrand Smith, director of Legal Affairs at the Maritime Authority of Jamaica (MAJ), said Jamaica has still not ratified the convention, but the Government has given the green light and drafting instructions have been prepared.
"We are now awaiting the drafting of the legislation. The ship agents have already been sensitised and a circular has been issued requiring ships calling at Jamaican ports from high-risk areas to exchange their ballast water before entering Jamaican waters," he said.
He said Jamaica also chairs a regional Ballast Water Management Task Force which has adopted a regional ballast water exchange policy. This will require ships to exchange their ballast water before they enter the wider Caribbean region. The policy is to be sent to all states of this region, including those with sovereign interests such as the United States, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, for acceptance.
Smith noted the convention will not come into force until 12 months after there has been ratification by 30 states which represent 35 per cent of world merchant shipping tonnage.
He said: "Based on the number of states which are party to the convention, it is likely that the tonnage threshold for entry into force will be met in 2013, and the convention would come into force in 2014."
He added that as a way of preventing the introduction of marine-invasive species, the IMO is approving treatment systems on-board vessels which will eliminate the need for ballast water exchange. He noted that whenever treatment systems become mandatory, it will influence the convention and also impact the cost and harmonisation of testing protocols for the treatment systems and the availability of shipyards to install the equipment.
A national task force, established in 2009, comprising agencies in the areas of shipping, ports, health, environment, fisheries and enforcement, as well as the Shipping Association of Jamaica and University of West Indies (UWI), has prepared a policy which will fully implement the convention when it comes into force. He said this was necessary as it will not only affect Jamaica's marine environment but Jamaican registered ships worldwide.
"The policy has been prepared and compliance monitoring and enforcement training has been received for the flag and port state inspectors," Smith said.
Ballast water poses health risks such as cholera and paralytic shellfish poisoning. Smith said the Quarantine Division of the Ministry of Health has been working closely with the Maritime Authority of Jamaica in ensuring that pathogens are not transferred to the Jamaican marine environment through ballast water.
In 2006, the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ) approved a $3.449-million grant to allow local scientists the opportunity to research the full extent of Jamaica's problem with ballast water.
Marine biologist in the Department of Life Sciences at the UWI, Dr Dayne Buddo, said the project confirmed the great risk posed by ballast water being released in Jamaican waters by international vessels, and also informed the development of a system of sampling ballast water from international vessels here in Jamaica. He said this is the first such system locally and includes creating access to the port and vessel, access to the ballast tanks, extraction of water through various access points, and timely analyses of the samples.
He said national capacity was also built with respect to personnel trained to sample ballast water and equipment needed to take these samples.
"From the analyses, several species were found in the tanks that were still alive after the three-to-four day voyage from the source port. These species are then capable of establishing themselves in Jamaican waters and potentially becoming invasive, and may cause problems to the native marine life, public health and the economy," said Buddoo.
He noted that Jamaica has been invaded by species in ballast water in the past, and the country will continue to be vulnerable to these invasions if ballast water is not managed effectively.
"Though the transport and release of ballast water is essential for shipping, it should be managed carefully, as the risks and consequences can be very costly," Buddo added.
He said the capacity built from the study also helped to position Jamaica as one of the lead partner countries in the region for ballast water management, designated as such by the IMO.