The Reality of Ballast Waters in Chile

The Reality of Ballast Waters in Chile

By Juan Berasaluce Astudillo

In a globalized world in which distances become "virtually more" every day and products and fashions go from one continent to another with the speed of a huge merchant ship, capable of transporting all kinds of cargo quickly to our homes, too. It has brought a series of unwanted individuals to our shores, they are the so-called exotic species and that in some parts of the world are true pests.

Initially, the ships were built in such a way that they always kept cargo on board, which was sold or exchanged in a port, and then set sail to another place and proceed in the same way with the existing loads on board.

When the trade did not allow such exchange to be carried out in the next port, the ship was filled with loads, which if they were thrown into the sea over the side of the ship, did not represent a loss for the owner of this and it is thus that the empty spaces that were evidenced, they were filled with solid inert loads, mainly consisting of stones or rocks of the most diverse types, which served as weight or ballast for the ship, but took time to handle and represented a possible loss of stability of the ship when moving during the crossing

With the introduction of steam and the propeller in the ships and many ships remaining, when unloading, with a large part of their work alive, what must remain under water, on the surface of the sea and its propeller little submerged, or discovered, to At the end of 1880, tanks began to be used to store water as ballast on board these ships.

The use of water as ballast facilitates the shipping business, since it made use of an existing resource in excess, without additional cost and because it is a liquid, it was adapted to the shape of the tank, which allows its rapid confinement in it. Another advantage was the fact that with this system the cargo holds are presented empty and ready for use in the port, unlike when using another type of ballast, it had to be unloaded and then loaded the cargo, increasing the operation time of the ship in port.

With the proper management of ballast water on board the ships, they began to be safer, as they did not suffer great structural stresses, they maintain good stability, a relatively submerged hull and its propeller is covered with water, which allows improve the ship's gait and, almost always, maintain an ideal loading condition.

The ships or merchant ships almost always carry ballast water when they are not carrying cargo and this condition is known, in nautical terms, as sailing in "ballast".

Ballast water can be of the most diverse origin and characteristics, depending on where the ship "took" or "ballasted" its water, it can be sweet or salty and according to the suction procedure and the characteristics of the place where it was taken. , may contain a large amount of living organisms or sediments (suspended solids).

Various scientific studies, such as those by Cartón & Séller 1993 and Gollasch 1995, have established that, on average, in ballast waters taken in coastal areas, between 3,000 and 4,000 different species transported by boat can be found. It should be borne in mind that many of these species can survive the special confinement imposed by a ballast tank, whether for days or several months, which makes this unwanted transport a vector for the transfer of exotic species from one place to another. another in the world.

The transfer of ballast water has given rise to an involuntary introduction of exotic (foreign) organisms in various parts of the world, achieving their establishment in some places, often displacing native species with the potential threat to the local environment and its economies.

Large quantities of seawater, with all that this implies, have been carried away from their place of origin to the most remote and distant places on earth, after many days or months of navigation. Chile is not exempt from this exchange and it is estimated that large quantities of these waters used as ballast are received from abroad and from our coasts, a not insignificant amount of ballast water has been sent to different destinations either to national ports. (cabotage) or foreigners, which happens every year because Chile is a country dependent on maritime transport, which is why this work aims to show the national reality.


Chile due to its geographical condition, surrounded to the East by the Andes Mountains and to the North by the driest desert in the world and to the South and West, by sea, the Pacific Ocean, the largest on the planet, make our country essentially insular and consequently its dependence on maritime communications is absolute and of undeniable strategic value.

In addition to the above is the fact that Chile has more than 4,700 kilometers of coastline, which includes coastal areas completely open to the Pacific Ocean, up to the interior waters of Puerto Montt el Sur, better known as the Canal Zone, a place of waters. protected.

Product of the coastal geography, in the Chilean coasts we can find and according to the records of the National Maritime Authority, the General Directorate of the Maritime Territory and Merchant Marine (DIRECTEMAR) in Chile there are more than 100 places, which have a "Commercial Port" and of which foreign ships call or set sail and which are also places where ballast water is shed or loaded, these places located along the coast from North to South go from Arica to Puerto Williams.

The foregoing is of the utmost importance because according to what is stated by the "Maritime Statistical Bulletin", 2003 edition, of the General Directorate of the Maritime Territory and Merchant Marine (DIRECTEMAR), it can be seen that more than 70% of foreign trade Chilean, it is carried out by sea.

The same document indicates a growing and gradual increase in the tonnage mobilized for export, which in 1993 reached only 20,770,941 tons, nine years later it exceeds 36,109,221 tons, that is, a growth of 73% was experienced, in the total tonnage mobilized, as reflected in figure 1.

Figure N ° 1: Tonnage mobilized in exports from 1993 to 2002. (courtesy DIRECTEMAR)

Such a significant increase in exports is also directly related to the number of merchant ships that call at the existing ports on our coast in search of that cargo, as shown in figure N ° 2, we are talking about an annual amount that easily exceeds 10 thousand ships, of all types and sizes, which many times, coming from abroad, are carriers of large quantities of ballast water, which are then deposited, or rather unballasted in the respective loading places, the ports on our coast.

Figure N ° 2: Number of ships called to port from 1993 to 2002. (courtesy DIRECTEMAR)

Although the figure shows a decrease in the total number of ships in the period 1997 -1999, and only rebound from the year 2000, the projected trend is to increase the number of ships calling at port, during the next few years.

These ships that call at ports and / or maritime terminals located on the Chilean coast, come, mainly, to look for bulk cargo, which corresponds mainly to minerals and wood, and to a lesser extent corresponds to general cargo, followed by liquid cargo and finished with refrigerated cargo.

It must be borne in mind that in order to navigate merchant ships need ballast and if they do not have cargo in their holds, they will proceed to fill their tanks with ballast water and this is how a Bulk Carrier ship, equipped with a modern double structure hull, tanks spread from bow (front) to stern (rear) and side to side evenly, plus some hold used for "clean ballast water (no hydrocarbons)", can ship about 75,000 tons of ballast water And as Chile is an eminently exporter of bulk products (raw materials), merchant ships of the Bulk Carrier type will call at ports loaded with ballast water that they will unload in order to embark.


In the case of merchant ships that are dedicated to the transport of general cargo and that mainly ship containers, with the most diverse products, it can be pointed out that they never arrive completely unloaded at a port and neither do they set sail without any cargo from it. In each port they will embark and / or unload very similar tons of cargo in weights and perhaps volumes, but in those ports where the ship is very light, because it unloads more than it shipped, in order to navigate in good shape, the captain will compensate for this difference With the filling of its ballast water tanks, water that will be shipped in the same port without charge and additional time.

According to a study carried out in the Port of Antofagasta, which is located in the North of Chile, in Bahía Moreno and is a general cargo port, a gateway for a large number of inputs for use in mining and a place of departure for the various minerals that are exported from there, copper being the main one, the following table was established:

Table I: Ballast Water Statistics in the Port of Antofagasta
YearExported CargoTotal ShipsShips that shedTotal Ballast% Ballast / load

Table I shows the total cargo exported during the years 1996 and 1997, which is increasing, as well as the number of merchant ships that called at said port, to be able to take all those tons. However, the number of ships that shed from one year to the next decreased, which can be attributed to the fact that some arrived with more or the same amount of tons of cargo that they carried, so it was not necessary to shed. Finally, the last column makes a percentage relationship between the tons of ballast water discharged and the tons of cargo exported by the Port of Antofagasta, representing the ballast water that was discharged by 19 and 16 percent of the tons exported.

In the port of Antofagasta, not only ballast water was discharged (de-ballast) in 1996, the amount of 163,380 tons of ballast water was also shipped (ballasted). This was due to the existence in the Port of Antofagasta of three Oil terminals that receive fuel for the city and the large companies existing in said Region, since of the 54 ships that unloaded fuel at the terminals, at the time of departure and for maintain stable conditions, they shipped the aforementioned tons of ballast water. This action continues to date given that the existing terminals in Antofagasta only unload fuel.

In Moreno Bay, south of the Antofagasta port, there is also a shipping terminal, for bulk cargo, "Puerto Coloso" or "Coloso" terminal. Place of shipment of the copper concentrate, which is exported by the company Minera Escondida Limitada to different parts of the world, but mainly to ports located in the Asia Pacific.

The merchant ships that carry out this type of transport are suitable for bulk cargo (Bulk Carrier), which the same terminal ships through a system of conveyor belts, which deposit the concrete in the corresponding warehouses, leaving the ship loaded to the maximum of its capacity, therefore, any ship that comes to embark must call at the terminal loaded only with ballast water (in ballast).

Table II: Ballast Waters at Terminal Coloso
Tons of bulk cargo Exported by ColosoTons of Ballast Water Released% deballasted water Vrs. Exported cargoLanding Ships

Table II shows that the amount of copper concentrate, cargo exported by the Port of Coloso, maintains a figure close to 2 million tons, with a maximum reached in 1998 and then decreasing figures. This disparity is due to the values ​​reached by minerals in the London metal market, which reduce supply and production, in order to increase demand and thus be able to raise prices.

Like cargo, the tons of ballast water discharged (deballasted) in Puerto Coloso suffer variations, despite the fact that in two years the number of ships called was the same, the year that under the exported tonnage, the amount of ballast water discharged. A phenomenon that is clearly reflected when the amount of tons exported is related in percentage terms to the unbalanced tons of ballast water, figures that are indicated in column three and indicate percentages that vary between 14% and 19%.

From the tables previously exposed, a direct relationship can be established between the amounts of ballast water and the tons exported by the existing ports in Moreno Bay, from which it is concluded that:

a) The largest contribution in ballast water, coming from abroad, is made by ships that come to look for bulk cargoes and sail in ballast to their port of shipment.

b) Every merchant ship, other than for bulk cargo and that ships more than it discharges, must unburden its ballast tanks in order to maintain its safe stability and not be overloaded.

c) Conversely, any merchant ship, other than for bulk cargo, that ships less than it discharges, must be ballasted in order to maintain its safe stability.

The data also show that the ballast water ratio is given by the load that is shipped and not by the number of ships calling at a port or their Gross Registered Tonnage (GRT) (OMI, 2000), since when they called more ships did not increase the tonnage of ballast water deballasted. It is also possible to observe a correlation between the amount of bulk cargo that is shipped in the Coloso terminal port and the amount of ballast water discharged, reaching an average of approximately 17% of the total cargo.

Now, if a relationship is made at the national level between the total bulk cargo shipped and exported, by all the ports of the country, with the percentage of 17%, which would correspond to the ballast water that is deblasted on average in the Port Coloso, Antofagasta, table III was developed, which gives us an approximation of the tons of ballast water discharged at the national level, as a result of the tons of bulk cargo that Chile exports.

Table III: Tons of Ballast Water Nationwide by Bulk Cargo
Tons of bulk cargo Exported Nationwide% deballasted water Vrs. Exported cargoTons of Ballast Water Deballasted Nationwide

In Table III the records of the tonnes of bulk cargo exported at the national level are Official data provided by DIRECTEMAR, in its statistical bulletin, but the percentage of deballasted water is assumed according to the average studied in Puerto Coloso, table II. Therefore, it can be pointed out, as a reference, that the amount of ballast water discharged at the terminals that ship bulk cargo in Chile, on average exceeds 2.5 million tons per year.

As the tonnes of bulk cargo exported domestically decreases, so does the amount of ballast water that is discharged in Chilean ports. Due to this fact, it can be pointed out that a country that is eminently an exporter of bulk cargoes by sea is more likely to receive a greater quantity of ballast water to unload in its ports, which increases the risk of introduction of exotic species by this medium.

Following the same methodology that was used in table III, "tonnes of ballast water nationwide per bulk cargo", table IV was prepared, which shows the "tons of ballast water nationwide", by the total of cargoes exported in the country, from 1996 to 2002. Again using as a reference the percentage of ballast water 17%, established as an average, for the purposes of this work, which yielded results similar to those of referred by Toledo and from which it was not possible to obtain the calculation methodology or statistical reference to support the above, summarizing everything as follows:

Table IV: Tons of Ballast Water at the National Level by Total Exported Cargo
Tons of bulk cargo Exported Nationwide% deballasted water Vrs. Exported cargoTons of Ballast Water Deballasted Nationwide

In table IV, the relations of tons of ballast water received average the order of 5.5 million tons and growing according to the increase in the quantity of exports.

With these data indicated above, it can be pointed out, without a doubt, that annually in Chile more than 6 million tons of ballast water are shed, all coming from abroad. This tonnage indicates the magnitude of the problem that must be faced and the proportion of the measures that must be developed, to avoid the introduction of exotic species or reduce the risk that this unintentional introduction into the waters of national jurisdiction on the coasts of Chile, they represent for the country.


If we consider which are the largest markets to which Chile accesses with its exports, we will see that 45% are oriented to the Asia-Pacific, therefore from there comes the largest amount of ballast water that reaches the ports of Chile, and It would not be unusual to find on our coasts, species originating from those latitudes, coexisting with local species and as shown in the Chilean international trade graph, corresponding to the year 2002, which is represented in figure 3, the greatest risk comes from the East .

Figure N ° 3: Percentage of exports and imports of Chilean trade, being the Asian continent the largest destination of our exports in tons (courtesy DIRECTEMAR)

All this may seem catastrophic, but the distance and the navigation time play in Chile's favor, since a ship to cross the Pacific Ocean easily takes 40 days, (Gobernación Marítima de Antofagasta registry) with which it has time to carry out the change of the ballast water and given the long period of confinement and the conditions in which it develops, it is very likely that the mortality of species inside the tank is high, not receiving exotic species through this route, which, to date, has been proven. However, numerous scientific studies carried out in various countries have shown that many species of bacteria, plants and animals can survive in ballast water and sediments transported by ships even after voyages of several months duration, which It constitutes an eminent aquatic environmental risk for a country like Chile, before which the Authority has already taken the corresponding rigorous measures to reduce the risk of introduction of exotic aquatic species, by means of ballast water.


At the moment that a ship, coming from abroad, stops at port, the reception must proceed, that is, the act by which the Maritime Authority verifies that the documents and the ship's security conditions are in order, and sets the norms to which they must be subject in their entry and during their stay in national ports.

The process of reception on board the ship, constitutes an administrative act, which involves the physical verification of the documents that the Captain of the Ship presents to the various Authorities and must give answers on the queries that are made.

In the case of ballast water, the Port Captain must verify if the ship brings ballast water, in what quantity, its location and if it will shed while in port. If the answer is affirmative, the Captain of the ship must deliver the records that allow verifying if the ballast water was changed at least once during navigation and more than 12 nautical miles from the Chilean coast, such as it is established by the Ordinary Resolution DGTM. and MM. N ° 12600/1, of October 22, 1999, in force to date.

The Port Captain must verify the official documents of the ship, such as its log or navigation book, engine room ballast record book, etc., in order to clearly determine if a change was made at sea, the latitude and longitude from where it began, (initial position) latitude and longitude of where the change ended (final position). These antecedents are required for each ballast water tank that the ship has and that request to be unballasted in port.

If the Port Captain, the Competent Authority, has doubts regarding the records presented, he must carry out a visual inspection and see that the ballast water is "clean" at the time of discharge and does not leave visible traces of hydrocarbons in the water or the vicinity of the discharge.


The probability of an introduced species being able to establish itself in new regions and generate environmental problems, depends on several factors, mainly related, mainly on the conditions of the discharge area (receiving), with more species that are more likely to take root when the conditions they are similar to those of their origin, such as salinity and temperature. Studies indicate that typically less than three percent of transported species make it to new regions, but just one predatory species could seriously damage the local ecosystem.

Added to the above are additional factors such as climate, number of introduced species (founder population size), native competitors, and food availability. Consequently, if the ballasting (loading) port and the debullasting (unloading) port are ecologically comparable, the risk of an introduction of the alien species is relatively high.

Observations have shown that organisms do not need to be harmful pests to cause severe harm. Some invaders affected native flora and fauna competing for food, habitat, and other resources. The worst ecological case that can be given is the replacement of a native species caused by the exotic invader. This can not only affect "only" a single species, which has been recently extinct, it can also affect any other organism dependent on the extinct one, which saw in it a source of food or habitat. As a result of the food chain a change can affect the entire food chain.

The transfer of large volumes of seawater from one place to another has been and is a problem that internationally has attracted the attention of many countries and organizations such as the United Nations, which, through the International Maritime Organization (IMO), dedicates great efforts to control and mitigate the damaging effects that these cause or originate in the marine environment where they are discharged. In Chile, the Maritime Authority, represented in the Chilean Navy by the General Directorate of Maritime Territory and Merchant Marine (DIRECTEMAR) is making and should continue to make great efforts to solve this problem, which requires the direct participation of countless of people, of the most diverse specialties and throughout the country, if you want to ensure clean seas.


A. ALEGRIA P., P. ARROYO G. J. BERASALUCE A.; (1999) Methodological Development for the Analysis of Ballast Water and Generation of the Control Standard. Diploma in Environmental Management and Environmental Management of Resources, Universidad Católica del Norte, Antofagasta 1998.

CARLTON, J.T. ; GELLER, J.B. (1993). Ecological roulette: the global transport of nonindigenous marine organisms. Science 261, 78-82.

GENERAL DIRECTORATE OF THE MARITIME TERRITORY AND THE MERCANT MARINE. (1999), Resolution DGTM and Ordinary MM No. 12,600 / 1049, dated October 22, 1999, "Provides Preventive Measures to Avoid Transmission of Harmful Aquatic Organisms in Ballast Waters."

GENERAL DIRECTORATE OF THE MARITIME TERRITORY AND THE MERCANT MARINE. (2001), Maritime Statistical Bulletin Period 1991 - 2000.


ENCYCLOPEDIA GENERAL DEL MAR. (1968) Fifth volume J-MOS, José Mª Martínez - Hidalgo y Teran, Ediciones Garriga, S.A. Barcelona 1968. Pp. 285 to 289 and 722 to 730.

GOBERNACIÓN MARÍTIMA DE ANTOFAGASTA, (2000) background and official records of "Sailing and Landfall of the Port of Antofagasta and Terminal Coloso, 1996 to 2000," held by the Department of Maritime Interests of said Authority.

GLOBAL BALLAST WATER, management program. (2001) A global cooperation initiative for the environment, of the United Nations and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), brochures and notes from "Stopping the ballast water stowaways".

INTERNATIONAL MARITIME ORGANIZATION (IMO), (2000), Effects of ballast change during navigation on the structural and safety conditions of the ship. MEPC 45/2/5, June 30, 2000.

INTERNATIONAL MARITIME ORGANIZATION (IMO), (2001), Report of the Working Group on Ballast Water convened at MEPC 46. MEPC 47/2, November 30, 2001.

* Juan Berasaluce Astudillo.
Master in Management of the Environment and Natural Resources.
Polytechnic University of Madrid (CEPADE)

Video: BALMAS documentary (June 2021).