Fri | Dec 4, 2020

Ja’s shipping community steps up to protect marine life

Published:Tuesday | October 6, 2020 | 6:14 AM
Bertrand Smith, director of legal affairs at the Maritime Authority of Jamaica.
Bertrand Smith, director of legal affairs at the Maritime Authority of Jamaica.

There is no doubt that the ocean environment is changing at an alarming rate. Rising sea acidity and temperatures – which spawned Sargassum and other algae, widescale pollution of rivers and other waterways – are just a handful of the alarming threats to marine environment and dominating conversations among the people it affects globally.

Blossoming trade routes and water transport infrastructure, in response to globalisation, have also contributed to the discussions around marine health in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.

On the surface, it is hard to imagine how a billion-dollar industry that focuses on moving goods above water can affect the livelihood of the creatures below. However, the modernisation of vessels to include steel hulls, which are stabilised by ballast water while at sea, introduced a new and serious ecological concern.

Ballast water, while crucial to the safe operation of a ship when it is empty or partially loaded, can transfer bacteria, such as cholera, and harmful aquatic species, such as microbes, small invertebrates, eggs and cysts, that may survive to multiply into pest proportions in the ‘host’ environment and overrun native species.

Jamaica’s shipping community has stepped up its efforts in the fight against invasive aquatic species that can threaten our delicate marine ecosystem and the families, communities, and industries that depend on it to survive.

In 2004, the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM Convention) was established by the industry’s governing body, the International Maritime Organization.

Since then, Jamaica has been keen to implement legislative policy in accordance with the BMW Convention. In September 2017, Jamaica deposited its instrument of accession to the Ballast Water Management Convention. The following year, Jamaica passed the Ballast Water Management Act.


According to Bertrand Smith, director of legal affairs at the Maritime Authority of Jamaica (MAJ), under the act “all ships operating in Jamaican waters, whether they are foreign flag ships or Jamaican ships, are prohibited from discharging untreated ballast water, save in limited circumstances”.

This means that, while on the high seas before entering Jamaican ports, many ships will be required to discharge the ballast water which they would have taken in at the last visited port and exchange that ballast with water from the high seas. Ships which load bulk cargoes such as bauxite or alumina must discharge their ballast water in the port before loading. By exchanging their ballast water on the high seas, the risk of transferring untreated ballast water from a foreign port to a Jamaican port would be significantly reduced.

The ballast water of ships has been identified as a vector of introduction of at least one invasive species in Jamaica, the Indo Asian green mussel ( Perna viridis), which has been known to heavily foul industrial and other man-made structures.

Smith further explained that “if a ship, however, has installed a ballast water-management system approved by their maritime administration, it will be allowed to discharge its ballast water in Jamaican waters, as the water being discharged would have been treated to the standard established under the act”.

The MAJ ensures that the ballast water-management standards established by the act are enforced by its port state control inspectors. The inspector has the power to board foreign flag ships calling at Jamaican ports and conduct a thorough check to ensure that the vessel has installed an approved ballast water-management system or review the ships log to verify that they have actually exchanged their ballast water before entering Jamaican waters. The inspector also has the authority to detain the vessel for infractions.

“In certain circumstances, based on the size and age of the vessel, the law allows ballast water to be exchanged at least 200 nautical miles from the nearest land and in 200- metre depth of water. If this is not possible, the exchange may be permitted 50 nautical miles from the nearest land and in similar depth of water. Failure to comply with the legislation results in fines of up to $30 million,” he stated. It is anticipated that the passage of the legislation will continue to lessen the occurrence of invasive species entering Jamaica’s pristine marine environment through ballast water.

In addition to the act, Jamaica established an inter-agency task force chaired by the MAJ and with representation from the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard, Port Authority of Jamaica, Shipping Association of Jamaica, National Environment and Planning Agency, and The University of the West Indies.