Editorial: Inspect ships' ballast
Published February 16th, 2005
It is a silent threat almost nobody knows about: Foreign
ships that avoid mandatory inspections of their ballast
water, and thereby endanger the Great Lakes and the region's
$4.5 billion fishing industry.
Little can be done about past invasions of foreign freshwater
species, such as zebra mussels, which proliferated in
the lakes after having been transported here from foreign
countries in ships' ballast tanks. But aggressive, decisive
action now could keep other harmful species from the lakes.
Legally, all ships coming into the Great Lakes are supposed
to be inspected. But most foreign ships get around the
rules. From 80 to 90 percent of them are not inspected
by the U.S. Coast Guard. That's a stunning violation of
the National Invasive Species Act, former U.S. Sen. John
Glenn's 15-year-old law intended to restrict the entry
of foreign species to the lakes.
The inspections are designed to make sure the ships have
performed the time-consuming and expensive task of exchanging
ballast water at sea, letting the ocean's salt water kill
freshwater species or microscopic larvae in freighters'
tanks before ballast water is discharged into our lakes.
But many foreign ships, in order to keep cargo moving,
avoid inspections by telling the Coast Guard there is
no ballast water on board. The practice jeopardizes the
lakes' entire ecosystem, endangers 81,000 jobs, and can
hurt the economies of communities such as our own that
depend on industries generated by the lakes.
It's inconvenient to exchange ballast water at sea, but
this region cannot afford to risk Lake Erie's prized walleye
and yellow perch. The fish draw crowds of anglers who
pour money into motels, restaurants, and bait shops. Unless
something is done, the regional and commercial fishing
and tourism industries that benefit cities like Toledo
will eventually suffer.
Allowing foreign vessels to disregard federal law is
intolerable. The zebra mussel invasion has already cost
this nation dearly. Now we have to wonder what other creatures
are on the way.