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Four Routes to Better Maritime Governance



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Suggested Citation:
Wan, Zheng, Jihong Chen, Abdel El Makhloufi, Daniel Sperling, Yang Chen (2016) Four Routes to Better Maritime Governance. Nature 540, 27 - 29

Sea freight carries more than 90% of global trade — and thousands of unwelcome passengers. The ballast water that stabilizes marine vessels is the greatest source of harmful bacteria and invasive species in aquatic ecosystems. About 10 billion tonnes of ballast are transported globally each year, with 7,000 species carried onboard every day.

This is damaging marine biodiversity and public health. For example, the imported Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis) is endangering native European and North American crayfish and salmon. Transported algae can seed blooms that smother or poison aquatic life, contaminate seafood and foul drinking water. As the world's shipping lanes expand into a warmer Arctic, invasive species will spread to waters that were previously unreachable.

Managing ballast discharge requires worldwide legislation and enforcement. International shipping traverses the high seas, where there is no local jurisdiction. A vessel registered in one country can operate thousands of kilometres away.

Global action has been slow. The 8 September accession of Finland to the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments ended a 27-year slog to bring the treaty into force. With 52 members of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) signed up — crossing the threshold of more than 35% of the world's shipping tonnage — the treaty will finally come into force on 8 September 2017. After that date, any ship from a signatory state found to be violating the convention within regulated waters will be warned, fined or detained.

This month, the IMO council meets in London to coordinate and plan the organization's activities. We argue that it must take a close look at the ballast-water convention, whose inadequacies highlight fundamental problems with international maritime governance. The lessons learned might steer other global environmental policies, from reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions to mitigating acoustic and light pollution. Going forward, the IMO should develop strategies to ensure that nations enter into its conventions promptly and to coordinate regional actions. It should establish market instruments to provide incentives and reform how maritime data are collected and used.

Available online at doi:10.1038/540027a