Global Ballast Water Management header GloBallast Partnerships Project
Home > International Response
Contact Search Print
The Problem
The International Response
The IMO Convention
The IMO Technical Guidelines
GloBallast Partnerships
Global Industry Alliance
Treatment Technology
R & D Directory
Legislation & Regulations
Library Collection
Awareness Materials
BBC-IMO: Invaders From the Sea
The GloBallast Programme
Directories & Databases

The International Response

In response to the threats posed by invasive marine species, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, in its Agenda 21 called on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and other international bodies to take action to address the transfer of harmful organisms by ships.

Click here to view the relevant section of Agenda 21 

UN Logo

As a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for the international regulation of ship safety and the prevention of marine pollution, IMO is the most appropriate body to address this issue. By 1992 it had already been active in ballast water issues for over ten years.


The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 26 August to 4 September 2002. The WSSD 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 IMO Ballast Water Convention.

Click here to view the relevant section of the WSSD Plan of Implementation.

WSSD logo

Assembly Resolution and Guidelines

Image of IMO Guidelines The member countries of IMO have developed "Guidelines for the control and management of ships’ ballast water, to minimise the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens". These Guidelines were adopted by the IMO Assembly in 1997, by resolution A.868(20). They replace earlier, less comprehensive Guidelines adopted in 1993. Management and control measures recommended by the Guidelines 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 here to view the Ballast Water Guidelines A.868(20)

Image of Ballast Water Management Plan
Model Management Plan

The shipping industry has also been very active in helping to address invasive marine species and participates actively in the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) Ballast Water Working Group. In particular, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO) and Classification Societies have published Model Ballast Water Management Plans. They give practical guidance for the implementation of the IMO Guidelines on-board ships. 

International Legal Regime

All of the approaches recommended under the IMO Guidelines are subject to limitations. Reballasting at sea currently provides the best-available risk minimisation measure, but is subject to serious ship-safety limits. Even when it is able to be fully implemented, this technique is less than 100% effective in removing organisms from ballast water.

In recognition of the limitations of the A.868(20) Guidelines, the current lack of a totally effective solution and the serious threats still posed by invasive marine species, IMO member countries also agreed to develop a mandatory international legal regime to regulate and control ballast water.

This culminated in adoption of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments in February 2004.

Photo of an IMO Meeting

Click here to view the Summary of the Convention Requirements

Follow GloBallast on Twitter
  Global Environment Facility United Nations Development Programme International Maritime Organization
Copyright © IMO 2000-2010.
All rights reserved.