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Council ducks ballast water issue
Posted on 14 July 2012
At the meeting of the full Council on Thursday 12 July, the members were asked to ratify their earlier recommendation, at the Policy and Resources Committee, to introduce stringent measures for the control of ballast water discharge in the confines of Scapa Flow.
In the event, the proposal was sent back to P&R for further discussion. The OMG accepted this move in the interests of good governance. It had become clear that the original P&R recommendation was made without its full implications being understood by some of the members.
There will be time now for the officers of the Council to spell out the pros and cons (and costs) of each of the options open to us. This should lead to an unambiguous result when the topic is next debated, in September. It is important to get the right decision – but in the right way too.
Meanwhile there has been a lot of muttering in the corridors of power about the impracticality of the “zero-risk” approach being advocated by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
SNH, as a statutory consultee, has a very large role to play in this case. If the Council ultimately makes a decision which goes against SNH advice, the Scottish Government is likely to intervene and may well side with SNH.
The recommendation of the P&R Committee was for a procedure which involved flushing ballast water twice in open waters, followed by onboard sterilisation treatment, a standard due to be introduced by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in 2016.
The flushing process is estimated to replace 95% of the water. If we assume that the onboard treatment is as effective as Domestos and kills 99% of the beasties in the water after flushing, then the overall result will be a dilution to 25 parts in one million.
Note that the risk mitigation is not as effective as this number would suggest since 10 beasties may impose almost as much risk as 10,000, dependant on their survivability and fertility in the Flow. Certainly it is not zero risk. Yet it is acceptable to SNH.
Incidentally, the OMG would be very chary of an onboard ballast water treatment method using chemicals. If the treatment is lethal to the beasties on board it is unlikely to be altogether beneficial to our own marine wildlife, especially after concentrations build up over time. Physical treatment, such as the use of ultra-violet light, would be acceptable if shown to be effective.
The true zero risk approach to ship-to-ship transfers, one advocated by the OMG, would be to stop them and avoid entirely any ballast water dumping from this source in the Flow. However, the OMG, in line with SNH, is reluctantly prepared to compromise and settle for the mitigation on offer from the IMO 2016 standard.
We would like to see more attention paid to the policing of the standard however. What incentive will there be for a ship’s master, approaching Orkney waters in adverse weather, to flush his ballast tanks, thereby reducing the stability of his ship? Tracking the ship’s movement will not guarantee that the flushing is taking place.
Cllr John Richards comments, “The Orkney Manifesto Group is by no means a bunch of swivel-eyed, tree-hugging, green anoraks.
“However, we are insistent on extreme mitigation measures in this case, because the probability of an adverse outcome, although possibly low, is unquantifiable; the potential environmental impact disastrous; and the payoff in terms of financial benefit low.”
Cllr Alistair Gordon adds, “As I’ve said before, the past is no guide to the future. If you play Russian roulette often enough you will lose your life, as sure as eggs is eggs. We’ve been lucky in the Flow – so far.”
The OMG does not expect to take quite such a hard line on other environmental issues. We welcome the development of renewable energy in all its forms, for example, as long as reasonable environmental constraints are in place. The potential impact of these developments is of a very different magnitude to ballast water dumping.
Furthermore, the OMG is concerned not only about the impact on the environment of industrial initiatives. We are also concerned about the use of non-sustainable fishing methods. Dredging for scallops (or indeed any shellfish), and electrocution of spoots, which do sometimes take place in Orkney waters, are deplorable practices, which cause indiscriminate damage to associated marine life. Even very large-scale creel fishing raises questions in our minds.
The damage from non-sustainable fishing methods may, however, be reversible, even if only after the practices have been abandoned for a considerable time. This is again a different order of magnitude from the potential impact of introducing alien species in the Flow – a potentially irreversible process.
The Council is now in recess until September but the debate can continue.
Posted on 14 July 2012