Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

By William H. Burroughs
Senior Principal Engineer, Advisory Services, ABS 

Ballast Water Treatment: Approaching Compliance


March 1, 2019

A global shipowner questionnaire and a series of Ballast Water management (BWM) system workshops conducted by ABS in December have found the industry to be trending toward compliance as regulatory deadlines near, but substantial operating challenges lay ahead.

The questionnaire, which included almost 500 vessels fitted with Ballast Water management systems, found the proportion of users who considered their systems to be ‘inoperable’ to have fallen to 6 percent, from 14 percent in a similar ABS audit from the fall of 2017.

However, the number of owner/operators that reported their systems to be ‘operationally problematic’ jumped to 59 percent from 29 percent; while this is a worrying trend, it also reflects the operational learning curve inherent in attempting to operate more systems.

About 35 percent of the installed BWM systems on the vessels were deemed to be operational at the time of the survey.

That said, with compliance requirements already in force for US Ballast Water discharges and soon to be in force for more global fleets, owners and operators are trying to gain critical experience with assorted BWM systems and the associated technologies.

Seven different types of BWM systems were examined, including those using:

• Filtration + Side-stream EC + Neutralization

(used by 29 percent of respondents)

• Filtration + UV Treatment (20.7 percent)

Ozone Treatment + Neutralization (19.9 percent)

• Filtration + Full Flow (In-line) EC + Neutralization

(17.8 percent)

• Full Flow (In-line) EC (7.5 percent)

• Filtration + Chlorination via chemical addition (5 percent)

• Filtration + Deoxygenation (0.2 percent)

The questionnaire’s findings, which were supported by a series of workshops conducted in New Orleans, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Athens, included feedback from owners of bulk, gas, product, heavy-lift and vehicle carriers, as well as containerships.

The workshops shared the current best practices that support the integration of BWM systems, exploring the challenges of different technologies, ship types and sizes, operational and environmental conditions, operating frequencies, crew competencies and system-maintenance requirements.

Results varied between BWM technologies, but the feedback broadly revealed growing concerns among shipowners about: the operational reliability of the systems; operating expenses being as advertised; the availability of vendor support; the quality of associated control software; and adequate levels of crew training.

With USCG and IMO compliance deadlines looming for many shipowners, the questionnaire often exposed lengthy periods for full adoption of BWM technology, which suggests the need for owners to urgently start the BWM systems selection process, and for them to resist the temptation to make cost their sole criterion.

In addition to many crews being unfamiliar with the systems, the questionnaire and feedback from the seminars found widely disparate levels of technical support being offered by the systems vendors.

These findings in particular should encourage shipowners to assign at least one company engineer to participate in the systems-installation process, and to operate it as much as possible before the compliance deadline to build corporate and crew familiarity.

Owners of large fleets would also be well counseled to nominate one ship as the training platform for their fleet; more resources may have to be spent on operating and training for that ship, but it will help to build operational reliability by familiarizing other crews before they deploy.

Across all technologies, about one third of respondents were happy with the reliability of the systems they had installed, which suggests that operational reliability is a major concern for most owners.

Isolating with any certainty the predominant source of the perceived unreliability proved difficult, however, as it varied from technology to technology; certainly, post-installation vendor support had proven difficult to secure, particularly for owners domiciled outside the country of manufacture.

Other feedback suggested that the under-performance ratings for what is essentially new technology were attributable to the skillsets of the crews operating the systems; it’s noteworthy that some the highest levels of dissatisfaction came from owners whose personnel had received training on the fly during commissioning, as onboard-acceptance testing was conducted.

About 40 percent of owners considered their systems to be ‘user friendly’; given that this is a subjective evaluation, it is entirely possible that any two owners could have seen the same treatment system from opposite sides of the spectrum. But the measure does speak to overall industry comfort with the technology.

An updated 2019 report on the best practices for operation of BWM systems is expected to capture all the key discussion items, lessons and insight shared at the workshops in the US and Asia.


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