Feature Story

GloBallast: Reducing invasive species risk through government-industry-UN partnerships

October 26, 2016

"It is important to understand that marine bioinvasions are the source of important environmental and socioeconomic impacts that go beyond the reduction in fisheries production due to competition or predation; they also include impacts on aquaculture and coastal infrastructure; or can jeopardize the development of a tourism industry"

“As a responsible global shipping carrier, APL is dedicated to protecting ocean biodi- versity. With ballast water identified as a major threat to the world’s marine ecosystems as a key vector for invasive species transfer, effective ballast water management (BWM) has been a hot topic of discussion among the global shipping industry and scientific community over the years.

My involvement with the GloBallast Programme (a partnership between the GEF, UNDP and the International Maritime Organisation, IMO), commenced when I was approached to represent APL on the GloBallast Global Industry Alliance (GIA). This is an innovative public-private partnership created under GloBallast to assist in finding common solutions to address ballast water issues, including new technologies, along with capacity-building activities to benefit the participating private sector companies.

GloBallast was naturally very keen to approach the shipping industry as a partner, as some concerns had been identified within the industry, particularly regarding the added cost of introducing new and costly technology that had not been truly tested during real ship operations.

One of the many milestones of GloBallast was their highly awarded documentary, “Invaders of the Sea”, co-produced with the BBC. In one scene, an Iranian fisherman in the Caspian Sea graphically explained the dramatic impact of the invasive comb jelly on the local economy, and the lack of alternative resources to support his family. This was the ‘poster story’ that was necessary to raise awareness about the damage caused worldwide by harmful invasive aquatic species, estimated at a cost of US$ 100 billion per year.

It is important to understand that marine bioinvasions are the source of important environmental and socioeconomic impacts that go beyond the reduction in fisheries production due to competition or predation; they also include impacts on aquaculture and coastal infrastructure; or can jeopardize the development of a tourism industry, for example through physical fouling of beaches and severe odours from algal blooms. This can place at risk any efforts made to provide solutions for poverty alleviation in coastal communities. Moreover, unlike most other threats to the marine environment, aquatic invasive species are nearly impossible to eradicate, multiplying their impacts many-fold.

Participating in the Global Industry Alliance has helped APL to partner with technology providers, the scientific community and governmental organizations, in addressing ballast water issues. In 2011, APL started installing ballast water treatment systems onboard its vessels, to reduce the risks associated with the discharge of non-native aquatic species in foreign waters through the vessels’ ballast water. However, the technologies and applications that APL was pioneering with the industry and solutions-providers were not perfect. Preliminary implementation efforts saw equipment design flaws and operational issues, while repairs and maintenance support by system makers are still inadequate

The Global Industry Alliance, however, was resolute in overcoming the challenges to be ready for the entry into force of the Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention. APL also strived to lead the way in implementing ballast water treatment technologies on board its fleet and, today, almost 60 percent of APL-owned vessels are equipped with ballast water treatment equipment. The remaining 40 percent deploys mid-ocean ballast water exchange, currently the most widely available method of mitigating the spread of non-indigenous species in ballast water

APL recognises that active engagement, coupled with on-going training efforts to educate system providers and their representatives on maritime safety, is vital in finding common ground with stakeholders. Meanwhile, the rigorous operational procedures implemented by APL’s maritime crews, supported by training and upgraded safety and control measures, have helped to improve the optimal functioning of these treatment systems. Resulting from these ongoing efforts, the functionality of APL’s installed systems has improved from a low 37 percent in 2014, to 73 percent in 2016.

I am proud to say that through the Global Industry Alliance, and our involvement with GloBallast, APL is contributing to better ballast water treatment technology. The BWM technology market, valued at US$ 30-50 billion for the period 2014-2021, includes the creation of GloBal TestNet, an association of 16 worldwide testing organizations to promote and increase levels of standardization, harmonization and openness in testing ballast water management systems. The GloBal TestNet is a neutral platform for information sharing and will help to ensure that all testing is comparable and in conformity, while delivering a greater level of transparency to the end-users of the treatment technologies

APL has also collaborated at the GloBallast Research and Development Forum. Organized every two years, the Forum has established itself as one of the most important international conferences on ballast water management. The Forum brings together regulatory bodies, the maritime industry, academia, leading scientific experts and leaders in technology development, to share the latest innovations and practical answers for ballast water management issues

The sharing of technical and industry knowledge across the shipping community, scientific experts and government bodies has enabled the Global Industry Alliance to develop a dynamic e-learning portal on the GloBallast website. Available both online and offline, it offers courses which train stakeholders – including seafarers – on the operational aspects of ballast water management.

Collectively, these efforts have enhanced the implementation of the Ballast Water Management Convention, and dramatically reduced the damage caused by marine invasive species. As the global shipping industry gets ready to comply with the Convention guidelines once they enter into force, public-private sector partnerships, exemplified through the GloBallast Global Industry Alliance, will raise global momentum in tackling the ballast water issue and developing effective solutions collaboratively.” 

MR SHAJ U. THAYIL is the Chairperson of the GloBallast Global Industry Alliance (GIA) Task Force. A marine engineer by training, with a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Strathclyde, he has extensive maritime experience in building and managing ships. As APL’s Head of Global Technical Services and Managing Director of Neptune Ship Management Services Pte. Ltd., he is responsible for technical and ship management operations and has played a leading role in the expansion of APL’s new vessel fleet.

This story was originally published in "Voices of Impact: Speaking for the Global Commons" by UNDP in 2016