Owners should act swiftly to get their vessels tested for biological performance or potential non-compliance, writes ABS senior principal engineer William Burroughs
Reports of owners trying to avoid post-installation BWMS commissioning testing echoes the scramble by owners to de-harmonize their IOPP Renewals to avoid BWMS installations and then, after amendments to regulation B 3 (implementation schedule) were ironed out, again scrambling to re-harmonize their IOPP Renewals to once again avoid early BWMS installation requirements.
When the amendments to regulation E-1 enter into effect (1 June, 2022), vessels could be certified to regulation D-2 following BWMS installations with limited testing (mechanical, physical, and chemical processes). Fortunately, some Flag Administrations have issued ’early adopter’ guidance to conduct biological testing ahead of the amended regulation E-1 deadline.
The industry is in the midst of the Experience Building Phase (EBP), referring to resolution MEPC.290(71) that, with some limitations, provides non-penalization provisions for occasional biological exceedances. The non-penalisation provisions were requested by several NGOs and endorsed by Flag Administrations before acceding to the BWM Convention.
Shipowners should take advantage of the EBP to avoid penalties (i.e., sanctions, warnings, detainments, or exclusions) solely due to exceeding the performance standard. However, although the benefits to shipowners during the EBP are helpful, there are no “free lunches” so to speak. The EBP’s non-penalisation provisions require the shipowner to meet some minimum prerequisites.
In order to qualify for the non-penalisation provisions, the BWMS must have been approved and installed correctly, have been maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, the BWM Plan (BWMP) approved and followed (including operational instructions and the manufacturer’s specifications), and either the self-monitoring system indicates that the treatment process is working properly, or the Port State has been advised that the BWMS is defective prior to the discharge of any ballast water.
“Although the benefits to shipowners during the EBP are helpful, there are no free lunches”
Class, acting as Recognised Organisation (RO) for the vessel’s Flag Administration, will assist documenting the BWMS Type Approval, correct mechanical and electrical installation and approving the BWMP. But the vessel owner needs to pick up the rest of the prerequisites from there. If the vessel exceeds the D-2 standard during the EBP, evidence of ‘installed correctly’ could become challenging. Conducting biological testing during the BWMS commissioning following installation could provide iron-clad proof of proper installation. Then, documents for proper operation, maintenance, and repairs and proper treatment could be easier to gather for the Port State Control (PSC) officer. Class, again, acting as RO, conducting Annual and Additional surveys following repairs or upgrades (i.e., after upgrading an AMS-accepted BWMS to USCG-approved configuration and the coincident upgrade to BWMS Code Type Approved configurations, etc.) would be useful additional evidence of proper maintenance and operations.
The bottom line is that the EBP is designed to allow owners and operators, regulators, PSC and vendors additional time to improve their parts of the BWM challenges and improve the performance of BWMS to avoid early penalties. The vessel operator must still operate the system correctly or notify PSC before arrival of the potential compliance problems.
Without biological commissioning testing, it is challenging to prove the post-retrofit BWMS integrated into the vessel’s existing water ballast systems was completed correctly. After a successful commissioning testing including biological testing, evidence of correct installation for the complete integrated system (i.e., BWMS and the existing water ballast system) is more straightforward. Existing ship systems may have been compromised from years of in-service operations. For example, established biofilm and biofouling in the pumps, piping and tanks with potentially leaky valves (i.e., caused by worn and/or cut seats and seals from repeated closing on ingested debris, etc).
With no biological performance expectations during ballast water exchange, these pre-existing conditions may not have been noticed. After adopting ballast water treatment for compliance, even though the BWMS may run properly, it is possible that the retrofitted system does not produce D-2 compliant ballast water at discharge.
Owners who discover their post-retrofit vessels are not capable of producing compliant discharges can lean on the vendor with the BWMS still under warranty, if the investigation reveals the BWMS is not performing as predicted. If the failure to produce compliant discharge is with the mid-life vessel’s existing water ballast piping, valves, and tanks, the owner can launch a campaign to correct the problems with proper planning to avoid excessive costs associated with emergency repairs and expedited rework or repairs. Conducting the repairs or upgrades during the EBP can help contain costs to achieve compliance without necessarily taking the vessel out of service to correct problems and risking its vessel charter prospects.
PSC guidance, referring to Resolution A.1119(30) and MEPC.252(67), describes a multiple-phase approach. The first element of which is boarding and review of records. If the PSC officer thinks something is not right, they can move on to the next phase that includes interviews and checking the operation of the BWMS, including self-monitoring indications. If things continue to cause concerns, the officer would continue to the next phase that includes conducting indicative analysis of small representative samples of water during discharge, analysed using indicative analysis.
It is here that the full benefit of conducting the biological testing during commissioning would be realized. During commissioning testing, the ability to get a clean, non-contaminated representative sample would have been exercised and known to be compliant. If the vessel properly operates and maintains the BWMS and water ballast system after the retrofit, the biological performance is more likely to be compliant. If the performance has never been tested, it would be more challenging to figure out when the performance went wrong – and if it were ever compliant.
PSC inspection guidelines were designed to avoid undue delay of the ship, but if the indicative analysis indicates a potential problem, the PSC officer can order ballast water discharge to be stopped and delay the ship. Then, PSC would require a science team to conduct a detailed analysis. The results of the detailed analysis could result in fines/delays and potential vessel blacklisting, including criminal penalties.
Now is the time – during the EBP – to conduct commissioning testing. Waiting until PSC tells you the discharge is likely non-compliant and detains the vessel for detailed testing is not the best strategy for success.
MEPC 74 asked Flag Administrations to provide clear guidance to their Recognised Organisations to conduct commissioning testing. Though some flags did so, some reserved their decisions while others have since revised their initial guidance.
ABS has elected to use approved Service Providers (SPs) to conduct testing, as this provides quality assurance reviews and the ability to oversee the independence of the SP with their training and qualifications. ABS then uses the test reports produced by the SP to issue the International Ballast Water Management Certificate after commissioning.