Clearing the path to implementation of ballast water legislation has been one of the most widely contested environmental initiatives to hit the maritime community
Early resistance to basic technology choice, lack of transparency in testing and performance data and limitations posed by an elongated type-approval process, have all featured highly in delaying full implementation to September 2019, some 15 years since guidelines were introduced by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in 2004.
However, notwithstanding the initial technology-based resistance and subsequent type-approval process noise, affordability remains at the centre of the ballast water challenge. While the shipowner/operator focus now turns to seeking the most appropriate ballast water technology, supplier and ship specific partnership, the affordability burden created by legislation that forces the installation of equipment providing no investment payback is very evident.
The recent granting of the 11th United States Coast Guard (USCG) type-approved system (Optimarin, Alfa Laval, TeamTec Oceansaver, SunRui, Ecochlor, Erma First, Techcross, Samsung Heavy Industries, Bio-UV, Wärtsilä Water Systems and Hyundai Heavy Industries) is significant, notwithstanding that all type-approved systems have inherent operational limitations that require proper consideration during the specific ship/technology selection process.
Experience in the technology selection and installation process is now gaining momentum and a number of companies have evolved to assist, for example, Goltens, Albion Marine Solutions, Mouawad Consulting, Choice Ballast and Cleanship Solutions.
In addition, some suppliers born out of the ballast water opportunity have secured third-party agreements to supply global spare parts and service support, now rivalling the global networks already embedded in the larger established marine OEM’s.
The ability to deliver the necessary levels of global support is yet to be fully tested and this is sure to generate new challenges that must be overcome before support levels can be delivered consistently to a ship in any geographic location and time zone. But even with an increase in acceptance and maturity of knowledge in the ballast water market, many challenges remain, for example:
While the September 2019 implementation milestone looms ever closer, retrofitting ballast water management systems to the entire existing world fleet remains both a significant challenge and opportunity. With lead times required to properly design, integrate and commission a ballast water system being around nine months, ship owner/operators need to act now. Virtual layout considerations made possible via 3D scanning of existing ship arrangements superimposed with 3D models of the ballast water system, can remove many risks and allow pre-installation preparation.
However, affordability issues remain. Finance to cover the purchase, installation and maintenance of ballast water equipment is an immediate worry for many shipowners, recognising that such investment reaps no possibility of payback. The level of investment is significant and often comes on top of already strained financial positions and similar demand arising from the control of exhaust gas emission, for example. In this respect, novel finance solutions such as leasing are starting to emerge by companies such as UK-based Wavefront Asset Management (WAM) Limited.
WAM is established in marine finance, offering leasing solutions to assist with the effort to comply with ballast water legislation. Leasing provides benefits by moving the consideration from capital to revenue budgets, allowing fixed monthly lease payments to spread over longer time periods providing solutions that free up cash, which can then be used in other areas of the business. As in other industry sectors, in addition to the equipment itself, it may be possible for the leasing consideration to incorporate associated equipment installation and maintenance considerations. This will be subject to specific approval, but may prove to be the only facility capable of ticking the affordability box for many.
Clearly, while there has been much progress in many parts of the ballast water challenge, stakeholders will continue to face challenges in the near term and it will be some time yet before the issue can be considered fully dusted.
Joe Thomas is a leading industry authority on ballast water treatment systems