Minnesota Approves Ballast Water Rules

On September 23, 2008 the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) approved ballast water regulations to reduce the number of aquatic invasive species (AIS) in the Great Lakes. Minnesota joins Michigan as the second state in the region to adopt its own rules in addition to federal guidelines.

The new rules affect ships operating within the lakes, also known as “lakers,” and ships from the ocean, or “salties.” Ships built in 2012 and after must treat their ballast water before discharging, and all other ships must do so by 2016. Treatment systems must meet International Maritime Organization (IMO) Performance Standards. Also, ships looking to discharge ballast in Minnesota waters must obtain a permit from the MPCA.

For more information, visit the MPCA Vessel Discharge (Ballast Water) Program website at:


For a fact sheet on the permitting process, visit:



July Report: Invasive Species Cost $200 Million Each Year in the Great Lakes

The Center for Aquatic Conservation at the University of Notre Dame released a report this past July about the costs of Invasive Species in the Great Lakes region. Total yearly losses were calculated at $200 Million, with the sport fishing industry leading as the hardest hit ($123.5 Million/year).

Follow the link for a fact sheet on this Report:


Microbial stowaways: Are ships spreading disease?

Ships are inadvertently carrying trillions of stowaways in their ballast water tanks that could pose a risk to public health, according to newly published research. Get the article here.

When water is pumped out of ballast tanks, it can release disease-causing microbes, said Fred Dobbs, a marine microbial ecologist at Old Dominion University in Virginia.

"This is a very difficult thing to predict," Mr. Dobbs said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

"It isn’t an issue, of course, until the ship discharges its ballast water, and anything that’s lived throughout the course of the voyage will subsequently be dumped into receiving waters."

He was able to track Vibrio cholerae, the bacterium that causes cholera in humans, from an outbreak in Peru to Mobile, Ala.

"We had a pretty good smoking gun argument that ships were transporting these disease organisms from South to North America," said Mr. Dobbs, whose article, titled Ship ballast tanks: how microbes travel the world, appears in the recent edition of Microbiology Today.

Untreated cholera can be deadly.

"The deaths are occurring on the Indian subcontinent, principally, and in South America. There are various estimates between 10,000 and 50,000 people per year that die from the disease."

Other disease-causing microbes in ship ballast tanks, which Mr. Dobbs said are sampled very rarely, include Cryptosporidium parvum and Giardia duodenalis. Both can cause stomach upset. Researchers also found enterovirus in ballast water, which can cause mild respiratory illness and hand, foot and mouth disease.

"We’re playing ecological roulette . . . with transporting all these species everywhere all the time," Mr. Dobbs said.

He stressed there’s been no documented case of disease outbreaks associated with the ballasting activities of ships.

"In particular, in the U.S. and Canada, we’ve got a couple of things working in our favour. No. 1, the water is cool to cold, depending on how far up the coast you are. And we also have very good hygiene. People aren’t washing their clothes and taking drinking water from the same rivers in which there’s sewage pollution."

But ballast water could carry diseases deadly to fish and seabirds, he said.

"Red tide organisms can be transported by ships as well," said Mr. Dobbs, noting agents that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning can also stow away inside ballast tanks.

"That may be as much, if not more, of an issue for us to be considering. The upshot of this is, whether it’s at the U.S., state, Canadian, national or even the international arena, there are a series of standards that are either being proposed or, in fact, are already in force."

Those regulations stipulate what organisms can be discharged with ballast water.

"These are daunting technological and scientific challenges that, arguably, have been made, in some cases, by politicians who don’t appreciate the technical difficulties involved," Mr. Dobbs said.

Ultraviolet radiation and chlorine can be used to treat ballast water, he said. Ultrasound, heat, microwaves and hydrogen peroxide are also proposed fixes.

"There is filtration, which does a great job, but it can only get down to maybe about 25 micrometres, and your garden variety bacterium is one micrometre or less. So filtration isn’t going to get out bacteria."

Ships pump water into and out of ballast tanks to compensate for cargo, increase propulsion efficiency and maximize stability in rough seas.

Mariners are supposed to discharge their ballast water far out to sea, he said. But that can cost time and fuel, an outlay unscrupulous captains might be anxious to avoid. Skippers can also claim an exemption if seas are rough.

"Some shipping companies are very, very good, and others, it’s hard to know whether they’re good or not. If somebody wants to subvert the system, it’s usually possible."


Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2008 passed by House of Representatives

On April 24, the House passed the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2008 (H.R. 2830) by a vote of 395 to 7. Strong bipartisan support for the legislation followed the adoption of two amendments. The first, a manager's amendment, improves transparency by requiring that regulated ships submit records of their actions to the Secretary of Transportation on a monthly basis, and ensures that ships claiming no ballast on board (NOBOBs) will be required to conduct saltwater flushing. A second amendment by Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL) gives the Coast Guard the authority to take emergency response measures if vessels operating exclusively within the Great Lakes present the risk of spreading invasive species or infectious diseases. H.R. 2830 also requires that in 2009 shippers must begin installing ballast water treatment systems that meet an interim standard in vessels that enter U.S. waters. All ships will be required to have ballast technology on board by 2014. Water quality standards for the treated ballast water will be ten times more stringent than international standards that are set to take effect in 2015. Additionally, the bill allows states to retain their ability to complement and strengthen the federal program. For more information: http://thomas.loc.gov/.


AIS Curriculum Debut

In Oregon, a high school marine biology class started a watery campaign to prevent invasive species on the coast - specifically Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) - that adversely affect local habitats. View the full article here.

The West Coast Ballast Outreach Project is creating a California version of the Oregon curriculum, as well. For more information, visit the WCBOP website.


Ballast Free Ship Design Proposed

University of Michigan researchers are investigating a radical new design for cargo ships that would eliminate ballast tanks, the water-filled compartments that enable non-native creatures to sneak into the Great Lakes from overseas.

Read the full article here.


Coast Guard takes the next STEP

The Coast Guard has prepared draft environmental assessments (DEAs) for three applicants seeking to participate in the Shipboard Technology Evaluation Program (STEP): Princess Cruise Lines' Coral Princess, Atlantic Container Lines' Atlantic Compass and Matson Shipping's Moku Pahu. In Federal Register notices (73FR 18544-18546) published April 4, 2008, the Coast Guard requests comment on the environmental impacts of testing these ballast water treatment systems on board ships.

The notices can be found at: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/pdf/E8-6988.pdf. DEAs can be found here. Comments and related materials must reach the Docket Management Facility on or before June 3, 2008. Additional information on the Coast Guard's ballast water program and the Shipboard Technology Evaluation Program application package is available at: http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-m/mso/mso4/bwm/step.htm. If you have questions on the Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) , please contact LCDR Brian Moore, telephone 202-372-1434 or e-mail: brian.e.moore@uscg.mil.