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Ballast water management systems set for shake-up

Ballast water management systems set for shake-up
The United States Coast Guard's (USCG) rules for the type approval of ballast water management systems (BWMS) may have a dramatic impact on the current state of the market for such systems.

The US rules have been in force since June 2012, and currently the USCG is exercising its bridging strategy, whereby systems approved by foreign administrations in line with IMO rules can be accepted as alternate management systems (AMS), which clears the vessel for five years, and extensions may be granted to the implementation schedule for a vessel in various circumstances including lack of availability of USCG type approved systems.

AMS status is no stepping stone for US type approval and will be no substitute for an approved system once it expires after five years. If the system installed onboard does not subsequently attain US type approval, the ship will not be able to discharge ballast water in US waters.

"From the time the final rule was announced [16 March 2012], the USCG said that it would be a minimum of two years before the first certificate was issued. I'm still inclined to think we're probably close to two years away still, from the first type approval system being issued." Jon Stewart, president, International Maritime Technology Consultants told delegates at the Seatrade Tanker Industry Conference last week in Copenhagen.

"By its nature, the input to administrations from IMO has been guidance... it has been non-mandatory. Administrations that want to do type approval can do whatever they like to do. The USCG did not like that interpretative value, and has come up with a much more prescriptive and definitive procedure for type approving systems, hopefully that will separate the wheat form the chaff a little bit, in the quality of systems that are being type approved."

Stewart forecast a change in the BWMS market as USCG type approvals were granted, as currently successful systems that benefit from nationalistic influences, that have been type approved by domestic administrations, or otherwise enjoy convenient relationships with shipowners or shipyards, are put under the scrutiny of the US type approval process. The market share of the various methods of ballast water treatment within systems may also face a change as UV systems, which represent around 35% of sold systems, face particular challenges from the US regulations which state that a BWMS must kill organisms, whereas UV systems eliminate the risk of an invasive species taking hold by preventing them from reproducing.

While the discharge standard remains constantbetween IMO and USCG rules, the type approval process in America is more rigorous. Gitte Petersen from the DHI Ballast Water Centre outlined some of the rigours of the US process, including mandatory testing by independent laboratories,operation of the equipment by the test organisation on land and by the ship's crew for the shipboard test, the completion of five consecutive valid test cycles on land and sea, and an operation and maintenance test involving a minimum of 10,000 cu m of water.

Interestingly for owners looking to do their due diligence on the various systems on the market, the US protocol also takes into account all generated data from tests, including failed tests, and all of that data will be publicly available, unlike the IMO process where only data from successful trials is considered, and even then the vendor owns all data.

BWMS suppliers may be calling for shipowners to install and run systems for the gathering of data and experience, but with no current system on the market approved for use in US waters in five years' time, and an as-yet unratified ballast water management convention, shipowners' hesitance to commit millions of dollars to a system that may not be sufficient for US regulations is understandable.

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