Twelfth Report Contents

Scrutiny of international agreements: Ballast Water Management Convention

Agreement reported for information

The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, 2004 (as amended) (CP 557, 2021)1

1.The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, 2004 (as amended) (the Convention) was laid on 8 November 2021, and the scrutiny period is scheduled to end on 13 December 2021. It was considered by the Committee on 1 December 2021.

2.The Convention was adopted on 13 February 2004 at a conference convened by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Its purpose is to prevent, minimise and ultimately eliminate the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens through the control and management of ships’ ballast water and sediments.

3.The IMO has warned:

“Invasive aquatic species present a major threat to the marine ecosystems, and shipping has been identified as a major pathway for introducing species to new environments. The problem increased as trade and traffic volume expanded over the last few decades, and in particular with the introduction of steel hulls, allowing vessels to use water instead of solid materials as ballast.”2

4.The Convention will require all ships operating under the flag of a contracting Party (or operating under their authority) to implement a Ballast Water and Sediments Management Plan. All ships will have to carry a Ballast Water Record Book and be required to carry out ballast water management procedures to a given standard.3

5.The Convention entered into force on 8 September 2017 without the UK having acceded to it. On 25 October 2019, the House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) published a report highlighting that the Government had failed to meet a recommendation from 2014 to ratify the Convention to tackle the threat of invasive species.4 The EAC recommended that the Government “urgently accede to the Ballast Water Management Convention at the earliest possible opportunity”, noting that this would “be a simple measure to limit the arrival of new [invasive] species”.5

6.The Government’s Explanatory Memorandum (EM) states that the UK played “a key role in negotiations on the Convention” and indicates that accession will “bring the UK in line with the 86 States that have already ratified and introduced legislation to implement the Convention”.6

7.An FAQs document published by the Government explains that accession had been scheduled for 2020, but was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.7 We believe that the EM should have included this information. The EM also fails to explain why the UK has delayed ratification of the Convention for so many years. We call on the Government to set this out, including whether there were problems of implementation related to costs.

Governance and amendments

8.Article 15 of the Convention contains a dispute resolution clause:

“Parties shall settle any dispute between them concerning the interpretation or application of this Convention by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements or other peaceful means of their own choice.”

9.Article 19 provides the procedure for amendments—these can be made either after consideration within the IMO or by a Conference of Parties convened specifically to consider amendments to the Convention.

10.We regret that the Government has failed to spell out in its EM the circumstances in which amendments would be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny. We call on the Government to review its quality assurance processes to ensure that all EMs address whether amendments will be subject to scrutiny under CRAG, in line with existing Government guidance.8

Entry into force

11.The EM explains that the Convention will be implemented by an Order in Council under Section 128(1)(e) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. A draft of the Order was laid before Parliament on 4 November for approval by resolution of both Houses, in accordance with Section 128(8)(a) of Merchant Shipping Act 1995.9

12.Unusually, the domestic legislation will only be in place after ratification, since the power in section 128(1)(e) of the 1995 Act can only be exercised where the Convention has been ratified. The EM explains that this should not cause any difficulties since there will be a three-month lag between ratification and the Convention coming into force for the UK.10 The Government’s intention is that the implementing regulations will enter into force shortly before the Convention takes effect for the UK, and the EM argues that the risks of this timetable not being achieved are “assessed as very low”.11

Territorial scope and consultation

13.The Convention will apply to the United Kingdom and the EM makes clear that the Government is working with the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories that have expressed an interest in having the Convention extended to them in future.

14.The decision to accede to the Convention was subject to a 12-week public consultation early in 2021. This included consultation on the draft implementing Regulations, Merchant Shipping Notice and Marine Guidance Notice. The EM highlights that shipping is a fully reserved matter, but that the devolved administrations were consulted on the domestic legislation and guidance.

15.We report the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments to the House for information. In particular, we highlight our comments at paragraphs 7 and 10 of this report.


1 International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, 2004 (as amended), CP 557, November 2021: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1031335/MS_6.2021_Convention_Ships_Ballast_Water_Sediment_2004.pdf [accessed 2 December 2021]

2 International Maritime Organization, ‘ International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM)’: https://www.imo.org/en/About/Conventions/Pages/International-Convention-for-the-Control-and-Management-of-Ships%27-Ballast-Water-and-Sediments-(BWM).aspx [accessed 2 December 2021]

3 For more information on the specific obligations, see: Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Ballast Water Management FAQ: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1003522/BW_-_FAQ_-_GOV.UK.pdf [accessed 2 December 2021]

4 Environmental Audit Committee, Invasive species (First Report, Session 2019, HC 88), para 28.
In 2014, the Government had indicated that it did not feel that it was in a position to ratify the Convention because work was still continuing at the International Maritime Organisation to clarify how the sampling and analysis could be undertaken. It argued that “without final processes and procedures in place, we feel that the Convention cannot be effectively enforced.” Environmental Audit Committee, Invasive non-native species (Fourteenth Report, Session 2013–14, HC 913), para 36

5 Environmental Audit Committee, Invasive species (First Report, Session 2019, HC 88), para 32.

6 EM, para 3.3

7 Maritime & Coastguard Agency, Ballast Water Managements FAQ, June 2021: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1003522/BW_-_FAQ_-_GOV.UK.pdf [accessed 2 December 2021]

8 Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Treaties and Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs): Guidance on Practice and Procedures, October 2021: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1024663/Treaties_and_MOUs_Guidance_Oct_2021.odt [accessed 1 December 2021]

10 EM, para 5.2 and Article 18(3)

11 EM, para 5.2




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