Ballast water is water taken on board by vessels to maintain stability and trim. Ballast water can contain thousands of aquatic microbes, plants and animals, which can be spread across the globe as the vessel releases ballast water. Unmanaged ballast water released in foreign ports could potentially introduce a range of invasive marine species. Invasions have already taken place around the world, in some instances with significant consequences for the local ecosystem.
Biosecurity Act 2015 and some other
related delegated legislation, collectively prescribe how ballast water should be managed within Australian seas.
Australian Ballast Water Management Requirements explain how to comply with the legislation while operating a vessel in Australian waters. In general, vessels have the following obligations:
- manage ballast water prior to arrival in Australian seas, and between Australian ports
- carry a ballast water management plan, ballast water management certificate, and maintain ballast water records.
Some vessels may be required to install an International Maritime Organisation (IMO) approved ballast water management system to meet new ballast water discharge standards. For more information on when a vessel will need to meet the discharge standard, please refer to the
Australian Ballast Water Management Requirements.
Exemptions are available for some vessels
Some vessels may be eligible for exemptions from some or all of Australia’s requirements. These include
General Exemptions which do not require an application, and
Case by Case Exemptions for vessels operating solely in Australian waters.
Ballast water management requirements
Australian Ballast Water Management Requirements explain how to comply with the requirements of both the Biosecurity Act and Amendment Act. Vessel masters who cannot comply with the requirements should phone the Maritime National Coordination Centre on
1300 004 605 for advice.
Failure to do so before discharging ballast water may result in civil penalties for the operator of the vessel.
Exemptions that you can apply for
Vessels must keep records of ballast operations and must manage their ballast water in according to Australia’s requirements. However, case by case exemptions for some obligations are available upon application for vessels operating solely within Australian waters.
Exemption from the requirement to install a ballast water management system
Applications will be considered for:
- floating platforms, Floating Storage Units (FSUs) and Floating Production, Storage and Offloading Units (FPSOs) operating exclusively in Australian waters
- vessels unable to retrofit a ballast water management system based on legitimate design restrictions
- fishing vessels which use anti-healing tanks and only source ballast water outside 12 nautical miles from nearest land.
Exemption from carrying a ballast water management certificate or plan
Vessels may apply for an exemption from certification requirements where equivalent measures for biosecurity and safety can be demonstrated. Applications will be considered for vessels that:
- weigh less than 400 gross tonnes
- only use potable water as ballast, and only discharge for the purpose of scheduled maintenance, dry-docking or emergency
- are fishing vessels that use anti-healing tanks and only source ballast water outside 12 nautical miles from nearest land.
- are dumb barges with no pumps or power source
- are recreational, or search and rescue vessels, less than 50 metres in length, with less than 8 cubic metres of ballast.
To apply for either of these exemptions, download the application form and email it to Marine Pests.
If you have difficulty accessing this form, visit
web accessibility for assistance.
Low risk management exemptions
Vessels may be eligible for exemptions from managing Australian sourced ballast water between specific ports, where the ballast transfer has been determined to be low risk.
From 8 September 2017, a vessel’s operator may apply for a low risk exemption using the Australian Sourced Ballast Application in the
Maritime Arrivals Reporting System (MARS).
Quick Domestic Ballast Water Risk Assessment Tool
Quick Domestic Ballast Water Risk Assessment Tool provides an indication of whether ballast water taken up at an Australian port and discharged at another Australian port, will be considered low or high risk based on the Australian Ballast Water Risk Assessment.
This tool does not provide a formal risk based exemption. An application must be made in the
Maritime Arrivals Reporting System (MARS) for a risk based exemption.
A vessel issued with a risk based exemption from MARS for a particular voyage is not required to manage the relevant ballast water prior to discharge at the intended port.
Any high risk ballast water MUST be managed prior to discharge at the intended port.
For more information on how to comply with biosecurity requirements for ballast water, including acceptable areas for undertaking ballast water exchange, please refer to the department's
Australian Ballast Water Management Requirements.
Policy and legislation
From 8 September 2017, new legislation and requirements apply to ballast water management in Australian waters. The following fact sheets provide guidance for international and domestic vessels travelling within Australian waters.