Agenda 21

The International Response – The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and Agenda 21

During the 1990s, countries that had experienced major invasive species problems linked to discharge of ballast water, began to take steps to minimise their risks, through initiatives such as reporting mechanisms and discharge restrictions. However, they encountered a major problem: the issue was not on the global environmental agenda.  Most stakeholders, including governments, port authorities, shipping companies, fisheries and the public, were unaware of the potentially severe consequences of the transfer of unwanted marine organisms through ballast water. As the potential scale and nature of the problem became clear, the proper control and management of ships’ ballast water emerged as a priority issue on the environmental agenda for IMO and the global industry.

In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, requested IMO to consider the adoption of appropriate, legally binding rules as a means to prevent the spread of non-indigenous organisms. Specific requirements in this respect were included in paragraph 17.30(a) (vi) of Chapter 17 of Agenda 21, which deals with the main areas of responsibility for IMO.


Extract from the section on Prevention, reduction and control of degradation of the marine environment from sea-based activities:
“17.30. States, acting individually, bilaterally, regionally or multilaterally and within the framework of IMO and other relevant international organizations, whether sub-regional, regional or global, as appropriate, should assess the need for additional measures to address degradation of the marine environment:
(a) From shipping by:
(vi) Considering the adoption of appropriate rules on ballast water discharge to prevent the spread of non-indigenous organisms”

In 1997, the IMO Assembly adopted the “Guidelines for the control and management of ships’ ballast water, to minimise the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens”, by resolution A.868(20). These were important building blocks for the Ballast Water Management Convention and its associated Technical Guidelines.  Management and control measures recommended by the Guidelines adopted in A.868(20) include:

– Minimising the uptake of organisms during ballasting, by avoiding areas in ports where populations of harmful organisms are known to occur, in shallow water and in darkness, when bottom-dwelling organisms may rise in the water column.
– Cleaning ballast tanks and removing muds and sediments that accumulate in these tanks on a regular basis, which may harbour harmful organisms.
– Avoiding unnecessary discharge of ballast.
– Undertaking ballast water management procedures, including:

1.Exchanging ballast water at sea, replacing it with ‘clean’ open ocean water. Any marine species taken on at the source port are less likely to survive in the open ocean, where environmental conditions are different from coastal and port waters.
2.Non-release or minimal release of ballast water.
3.Discharge to onshore reception and treatment facilities.

Click to access the resolution A.868(20) in Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish and Russian.

In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) which took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 26 August to 4 September 2002 re-affirmed its commitment to Agenda 21 and in its Plan of Implementation, the WSSD called for acceleration of the development of measures to address invasive species in ballast water and urged IMO to finalize the then draft International Convention on the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments:

Extract from the section on Protection and management of the natural resource base of economic and social development:
“34. Enhance maritime safety and protection of the marine environment from pollution by actions at all levels to:
(b)     Accelerate the development of measures to address invasive alien species in ballast water. Urge the International Maritime Organization to finalize its draft International Convention on the Control and Management of Ships. Ballast Water
and Sediments. “