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Time pressure building around ballast water management

Time pressure building around ballast water management
Time is running low for shipowners to act on ballast water management as the Ballast Water Management Convention (BWMC) could possibly be ratified within the next 12 months, yet installations of the system have dropped as owners continue to delay purchasing decisions.

The US Coast Guard's (USCG) rules on ballast water management are already in place, although the lack of a type approved system from the USCG and the wait for the BWMC to be ratified continues to leave owners inactive on the pricey decision of which system to install.

Session moderator Katherina Stanzel, managing director of Intertanko, confirmed that many within the industry now believe that ratification is a possbility within 12 months, although that it is far from a certainty.

Debra DiCianna, senior environmental solutions consultant at ABS told delegates at the global maritime environmental congress (gmec) that the financial burden on a ship for the installation of a system ranges from $50,000 up to $5m, with the added ongoing cost of running the equipment thereafter.

Assessing industry preparedness, DiCianna revealed that around 15% of vessels with keel laying dates in 2011 and 2012 were equipped with ballast water treatment systems, but that number has fallen. "What we've found out from interactions with shipowners over the past 18 months, and you can probably find out from the vendors on the show floor, is that in the past year the number of purchases of ballast water systems has drastically declined. Newbuilds, where they previously would choose systems, they are now reserving space for the systems to return to the decision at a later time."

In a poll of the audience, it was clear that they believed that the industry was not sufficiently preparing for ballast water regulation, with only 21% beliving that sufficient preparations are being made.

While shipowners wait for the implementation of the BWMC and a type approved system from the US Coast Guard, Jurrien Baretta, business development manager, Goltens Green Technologies shed light on the multiple-stage process of retrofitting a system on a vessel and the timescales involved; a factor that will prove crucial should shipowners rush to shipyards ahead of the BWMC implementation date.

The task of fitting systems amongst the existing piping and ventilation on board a ship is a complex process, often involving the rerouting of existing systems and allowing considerations for "invisible space" that needs to be kept clear for access to the equipment for maintenance.

"It's not just making space for the treatment system, there are also challenges like pump requirements. Ballast pumps tend to have high capacity, but there is not a lot of pressure. Sometimes you cannot place the BWMS near the pump, it has to be above it and that might require a pump upgrade," Baretta told delegates.

It takes months to get from the initial ship visit and laser scanning of available spaces to commissioning a system, it can optimistically be achieved within four to five months, but most projects take around a year.

There was a dash of irony within the presentation of Lothar Schillak, marine biologist and senior marine expert at SGS, who was presenting a solution for rapid onboard testing of ballast water. The time it takes to gather a sample of ballast water for testing after it has past through the organism-killing machine is extended by the necessity to reduce the flow rate at which the sample is taken to prevent killing any viable organisms within the sample.

If the rate at which the ballast water passes through the filter goes above 0.5 metres per second, there is a risk of the organisms being broken up by the flow of water and reducing the accuracy of any measurements taken form the sample.

Despite that operating limitation, Shillak stated that most tests can be completed within five to six hours, from boarding the ship to disembarking, and is the only such solution currently available.

The panel were united in raising the warning that sampling is a tool that port state control (PSC) has at its disposal within BWMC, and that there need be no express reason given for requesting the procedure be carried out. Although the equipment itself might be type approved, its operation will have significant impact on its efficacy, and PSC is well within its rights to test samples of ballast water, even if the paperwork and operational records are spotless.