Responsible shipping practices needed to keep invasive species out of Oman seas
February 14, 2018 | 9:13 PM
by Times News Service
Invasive species tend to spread to a degree that harm the environment, economy and human health. Photo-File

Muscat: If ships take it upon themselves to deal with the ballast water responsibly, then the threat of invasive species can be countered, experts said.

Ballast water is sea water that is taken on board ships to keep them heavy and stable.

However, if vessels take on sea water in oceans far away and release them off the coast of Oman, the invasive species inside it, such as algae, fish, crabs and the like will get released into the sea and pose problems for native species in Omani seas.

It is for this reason that the best practice is to either release ballast water at a safe distance or treat it inside the vessel and then release it. An invasive species is a plant, animal, bird or microorganism that is not native to an area, but is rather introduced into the eco-system by human beings.

Moreover, these species tend to spread to a degree that harm the environment, economy and human health. A harmful algal bloom (hab) of Cochlodiniumpolykrikoides appeared for the first time in Oman’s coastal waters in November 2008 and covered the entire Arabian Gulf and Sea of Oman for more than 10 months.

Michel Clareboudt, marine biologist at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), however, clarified that it wasn’t proven beyond doubt that it was ballast water that had caused an invasion, but added that it was the most likely cause.

“We can’t prove that the species that get introduced can survive, but vessels should certainly be responsible in this regard. The trouble is one can’t control what the ship is doing six kilometres off the port,” he said.

Clareboudt added that there are a number of ways for vessels to be able to do that, but added that they were all quite expensive.

“Mid-ocean exchange is one method. If say, a vessel has to stop in the middle of the ocean, unload its ballast water and take on the sea water there. It is to be noted that there are no harmful organisms in water in the middle of the ocean,” he said.

“Other methods include bubbling nitrogen in the water or subjecting it to ultra violet rays before releasing it. These methods would ensure that all the organisms inside the ballast water are dead and don’t harm to native species,” he added.

Official sources at port of Salalah affirmed that dealing with ballast water was the responsibility of the people handling the vessels and not that of the port.

“Most of the ships that we get are from the same region, so the question of ballast water exchange doesn’t arise. Most vessels we get are from Mina Al Fahal near Muscat and they carry oil. “We very rarely get ships from far away seas, but when we do, we follow our protocol and check their logs to see that they’ve released or treated the ballast water properly,” sources added.

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