Ballast water management of ships: international convention

Official title: International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, 2004 (BWM)

Subject category:
Marine / Oceans
Type of agreement / instrument:
Legally-binding treaty
  • Opened for adoption on February 13, 2004
  • Canada acceded to the convention in 2010 and it will come into force September 8, 2017
  • 77 countries
Lead & partner departments:
Transport Canada
Environment and Climate Change Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
For further information:
Web links:
International Maritime Organization
Transport Canada Inquiry Centre
Compendium edition:
January 2020
Reference #:

Plain language summary

The Government of Canada supports effective ballast water management standards to reduce the risk of introducing invasive aquatic species. Canada established a robust regulatory regime in 2006. In 2010, Canada acceded to the International ballast water Convention, requiring all ships that travel internationally to manage their ballast water. Regulatory amendments are needed to fully bring the IMO ballast water Convention into force domestically.

Canada and the U.S. (which is not a Party to the Convention) have a long history of compatible ballast water requirements, which has helped sustain the Great Lakes marine industry. Canada and the U.S. continue to work closely bilaterally and at the International Maritime Organization towards compatible, practicable and environmentally protective ballast water requirements that reflect economic fairness.

Objective, key elements and expected results

The objective of this Convention is to prevent, minimize and ultimately eliminate the risks to the environment, human health, property and resources arising from the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens through the control and management of ships‘ Ballast Water and Sediments, as well as to avoid unwanted side-effects from that control and to encourage developments in related knowledge and technology.

Key elements of the Convention require all ships to implement a Ballast Water Management Plan. All ships will have to secure a Ballast Water Management Certificate, maintain a Ballast Water Record Book and be required to carry out ballast water management procedures to given standards. Parties to the Convention are given the option to take additional measures which are subject to criteria set out in the Convention and to International Maritime Organization (IMO) guidelines.​

The Convention’s ballast water management standards will be phased in leading up to 2024. Eventually most ships will need to install an on-board ballast water treatment system. In the meantime, ships must exchange their ballast water in mid-ocean.

The Convention is expected to reduce the introduction and spread of new aquatic species, including bacteria and other microbes, micro algae and various aquatic plant and animal species in Canada and globally.

Canada’s involvement

Canada played a key role in the development of the Convention and continues to play an active role in international discussion on the Convention and its implementation at the IMO.

Canada will enforce the Convention’s standards, timelines and other requirements for vessels flying Canada’s flag. Canada will also inspect and enforce the Convention’s requirements on other ships operating in waters under Canadian jurisdiction.

Results / progress


Canada is developing new Ballast Water Regulations under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 to bring the Convention into force in Canada. Regulations were published for public comment in Canada Gazette 1 on June 8, 2019. Until the new regulations take effect , Canada will continue to apply the existing Ballast Water Control and Management Regulations.

Technical and regional compatibility factors pose challenges to ships operating primarily on the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Seaway system. In Canada Gazette 1, Canada proposed a practicable and protective approach that takes into account these challenges. Concurrently, Canada continues to work closely with the United States towards binational compatibility on the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Seaway system.

Canada will remain active in the international discourse on the implementation of the Convention at the IMO, with the goal of ensuring that the Convention remains both practicable and environmentally-protective.

Canada also continues to co-operate on the joint oversight of ballast water management and invasive species with the United States through the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA).


Canadian activities are documented in the proceedings of IMO Committee Meetings and published on the IMO web site. Transport Canada reports on ballast water management through its Departmental Sustainable Development Strategy. Under the GLWQA, Canada and the U.S. develop the “Progress Report of the Parties”, which documents the binational and domestic activities and accomplishments of Canada and the United States in implementing the GLWQA.

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