An expert panel convened recently for a technical webinar to discuss the operational and regulatory issues concerning ballast water treatment systems
A recent joint Riviera and De Nora ballast water treatment webinar gave owners and operators a chance to discuss their experiences with the retrofitting and operation of ballast water treatment systems (BWTS). Participants also analysed the short- and long-term implications of current and pending legislation.
Riviera’s head of content Edwin Lampert hosted the webinar, opening proceedings by reviewing the somewhat tortured implementation of the IMO Ballast Water Convention. “The 8th September 2019 was a momentous day in the maritime calendar, with the ballast water management convention coming into full effect after 15 years of drift delay and postponement,” he said. “Owners now have a five-year timeframe between 8th September 2019 and 7th September 2024 to install a ballast water management system (BWMS), with installations projected to peak in 2022.”
He commented that to give the timeframe some context, in September 2018, classification society class NK analysed the retrofitting status of BWMS on its registered ships. At the end of August 2019, 7,124 of the 9,097 ships registered with the society had to be in compliance. Of those vessels, 2,606 had already installed systems, meaning 4,518 vessels still required attention. Another classification society, ABS, estimates that globally approximately 45,000 vessels of 2,000 dwt and above have yet to adopt BWMS.
Certification and operational compliance are, of course, two very different things and with the compliance deadline now upon us, shipowners and operators are understandably concerned about enforcement and the potential repercussions if regulatory requirements are not met.
Speaking for Anglo-Eastern, managing director Carsten Ostenfeldt related the shipmanager’s experiences to date. He noted the company has experience of using 19 different makes and models of BWTS. Approximately 210 ships have been fitted from new and 90 are retrofits. He noted that all the systems exhibited some issues in the first year of use, ranging from the quality of the parts fitted to the system through to the suppliers’ knowledge of their own systems. But he commented that the situation has matured, and the number of issues is declining.
Ardmore Shipping’s chief operating officer Mark Cameron has experience of newbuildings and retrofits of ballast water systems, both on tankers with pump rooms and deep-well pumps. “Each brings its own set of problems,” he noted.
For an owner like Ardmore, a key factor is training. Ardmore Shipping has been training crews on ballast water treatment operation at Anglo Eastern’s shore-based facilities. While accepting that there may be some initial problems, as an operator, Ardmore Shipping believes there is no point in only part complying: “[Tanker operators] are not here to be caught out for minor infractions of small details. We’re here to actually do what is expected of us and for the [BWTS] to live up to what it is expected to do.”
The retrofit challenge
Those participating in the webinar agreed that retrofitting and operating BWTS has been a challenge and debate moved on to how commission and in-use testing will impact stakeholders. This is a key factor for the future of the testing regime. On one level there is the type-approval testing by IMO and USCG. SGS’ marine services regional business development manager Guillaume Drillet has had previous experience of type-approval testing. The group has a global web of laboratories and a system of sharing information on ballast water testing. “Our experience of General Vessel Permits is that the majority are in compliance,” he said. He noted that there were variations: “We note about 15% non-compliance of TRO discharge by systems using active substances.” He added that shipboard training may be required in some cases.
SGS has already undertaken commissioning testing of BWTS in different countries and it has found that non-compliance occurs in around 15-20% of cases. “The non-compliance on commissioning helps us to find if a system is not working and what needs to be done to bring it into compliance,” said Mr Drillet.
INTERTANKO’s environmental director Tim Wilkins noted that now the Ballast Water Management Convention is in force the next phase is compliance testing. Like many stakeholders in the industry, he expressed surprise that commissioning testing was not mandatory in the first phase of the convention, but INTERTANKO welcomes it now. He warned of how the convention might develop when it came to the ballast water record book: “Let this not be another oily water record book situation,” he said, hinting as the “magic pipe” instances and prosecutions.
The problem as he sees it is that the convention is vague on the specifics of record entries and monitoring. This allows some room for interpretation by Port State Control (PSC); INTERTANKO is gathering data from members with a view to providing IMO with information on how the regulations around record book requirements could be tightened. The demand for compliance testing will depend on the attitude of PSC. Will minor infractions require a full compliance testing of the treated water? The situation is unclear.
De Nora Water Technologies’ general manager (BWMS division) Dr Stelios Kyriacou was asked about the value of sensors on BWTS. De Nora has taken the decision to install a comprehensive monitoring system: “It logs every single system at every single stage of the management of the system,” he said. “This gives us the opportunity to carry out a remote verification of the system (installed on the ship.”
With this system in place, De Nora can see problems as they emerge and issue corrective instructions without need of an expensive engineer. De Nora has also asked clients to share this data.
Norton Rose Fulbright partner Philip Roche noted the law firm has been involved in some of the financing initiatives for funding the fitment of BWTS. The law firm is also providing advice to clients on their position regarding the laws surrounding BWTS. This advice covers the clauses required in charterparties, where there needs to be a description of a retrofitted ballast water system.
“The concentration tends to be on the liability clauses,” he noted. There also needs to be warranties clauses incorporated into the charterparty as the BWTS will have an impact on the performance of the vessel. On the bigger picture of the implementation of ballast water treatment and how PSC will react he expressed astonishment: “It is a failure of international institutions to get their act together… ballast water (treatment regulations) have been coming down the road for a long time and it just seems to me unacceptable.”
It is a view widely held across the shipping community – the introduction of the regulation has not been well-managed.
Concerns were also noted when the question of sample size for in-use testing of ballast water treatment was raised. Mr Cameron summed up his feelings in a single word: discomfort. Why was it that a ship could load 40,000 tonnes of cargo and readily provide samples to shippers without any ambiguity to the volume of the samples?
“We take bunkers on board for which we pay an enormous amount of money and we are able to test those against certain standards,” he said. “But why is it necessary to talk about treated ballast water samples sizes of 3 m3 (three tonnes)?” He said while that might be a requirement from the biologists from a statistical point of view, it is going to be very difficult for operators to store and log these amounts from a practical point of view.
Mr Ostenfeldt agreed that more work needs to be done regarding the size of sampling. The shipowner already faces compliance challenges and commissioning sampling and in-use sampling needs to be realistic. Mr Wilkins concurred, stating that PSC needs to be clear on when to go onboard to take samples, why samples are being taken and what will happen to those samples. This will be a completely different situation to checking sulphur in fuel: “We are talking about biological sampling and there is much more variability in biological sampling,” he said. This has cost implications: the testing is more complex and therefore expensive.
Conflicts of interest
Mr Drillet attempted to quantify the cost of testing. When it comes to ballast water system type-approval, he noted that there are only six or so laboratories that have the ability and the qualifications to conduct such testing. There is however a larger number that are able to undertake commission testing and compliance testing: “The challenge will be to have competent people with the skills required to undertake the test,” he said. The number of compliance tests that are required will dictate demand and this will have consequences for training and recruitment.
Mr Drillet also noted a potential conflict of interest: will laboratories that conducted the type-approval of the ballast water system be allowed to undertake compliance testing of the same system? That could narrow down the available laboratories significantly.
Mr Wilkins reiterated INTERTANKO members’ concerns about the availability of compliance testing laboratories, noting good coverage in the USA and parts of Asia, but far fewer such institutions in other regions.
On the subject of costs, Mr Cameron expressed exasperation. “It seems to me that everybody around the shipping industry seems to make a lot more money than shipowners necessarily do,” he said. He went on to list some of the many “spring-up” industries that have recently appeared in shipping: exhaust emissions verification; ballast water verification; inventory of hazardous materials; IMO 2020; the list goes on…
Returning to the ambiguities of the new regulations, Mr Cameron wrapped things up by noting how the rules by which compliance is tested are vague and suggested that PSC could demand testing for every infraction. “I think there’s a responsibility for us as an industry to get our act together and to actually say, this is what we are trying to achieve, this is what we are doing and this is how much it should cost,” he said.