US launches inquiry into fairness of new Canadian ballast water regulations

The US Federal Maritime Commission has launched its investigation into Canada’s upcoming ballast water regulations amidst claims from local shipowners and operators that the Canadian move would impact US-flagged vessels unfairly.

Canada has said that the proposed ballast water regulations will protect Canadian waters from invasive species. To achieve this the regulations would need to require both domestic and foreign vessels to develop and implement a ballast water management plan and comply with a performance standard that would limit the number of organisms discharged by 2024.

The launching of the investigation follows a petition filed in March by US-based Lake Carriers’ Association to look into the regulations.

The regulations will require most vessels operating in Canadian waters, whether foreign or domestic, to install a ballast water management system (BWMS), regardless of whether or not they discharge ballast water in Canadian waters.

Vessels would also be required to obtain a certificate, keep records of ballast water operations, and be subject to inspections to verify compliance.

The FMC has issued a “Notice of Investigation and Request for Comments” The Lake Carriers’ Association represents 13 member companies that operate a total of 46 US-flagged Great Lakes vessels. It has claimed that the regulations would be unfavourable to shipping in the US-Canada trade. It has cited Section 19(1)(b) of the Merchant Marine Act, 1920.

Canada has said that the proposed regulations are required because of an IMO treaty which Canada has signed (but the US has not).

The Lake Carriers’ Association denies this line, claiming that the proposed regulations were not mandated by the IMO treaty. It has said that compliance with the Canadian performance standard would be cost prohibitive for its members. It claimed that Canada’s proposed regulations were mainly aimed at removing US operators from the cross-lakes trade.

The Commission has long been concerned about the proposed Canadian ballast water regulations and the effect it will have on the U.S.-flag Laker fleet.

Carl W Bentzel, Commissioner of the FMC, said that “the proposed Canadian regulation appears to go further than provisions regulating ballast water discharges into Canadian waters and would require US-flagged Laker vessels BWMS to treat ballast water even if they only load, and do not discharge, ballast water in Canadian waters. I understand that US-flagged Laker carriers are willing to abide by Canadian regulations requiring a BWMS if they discharge their ballast water into Canadian waters.”