With a raft of new fuel and ballast water system fitments scheduled over coming months to meet new regulations, experts are urging shipowners to clarify their testing requirements to avoid delays
The acquisition of Maritec, the Singapore-based maritime testing facility, by Centre Testing International (CTI) looks to be perfectly timed as the rush towards compliance gathers speed ahead of the introduction of tougher ballast water regulations and shipowners’ continuing concerns over fuel quality.
A huge backlog is building up in ballast water, according to CTI-Maritec vice-president of business development John Rendi. Most of the approximately 12,000 ballast water systems already installed have not yet been tested for compliance, but will soon have to be put through the hoops.
But that is just existing systems. Mr Rendi expects that about 10,000 systems will be installed every year for the next five years – meaning testing for over 60,000 systems in that period. “We recommend shipowners start testing now to avoid bottlenecks,” he warns.
In anticipation of the rush, the enlarged group plans to roll out testing facilities across Asia and the Middle East on top of existing ones in Singapore, Rotterdam, Athens and the UK. The first of these labs will be in Shanghai and is due to open in March.
“We recommend shipowners start testing now to avoid bottlenecks”
The company has been busy since the acquisition in June 2020. Class society DNV approved the test facilities as capable of doing commissioning for ballast water. The overall strategy for CTI is to expand its marine division, as shipowners face mounting challenges in bunkering, emissions and environmental compliance.
The result is a one-stop shop covering marine fuel and lubricant testing and analysis as well as all the water testing – ballast, potable, black, grey, oily and scrubbers, the latter being a particularly contentious issue.
Looking ahead, Maritec is working on new testing and quality-control protocols for alternative fuels, including LNG, methanol, ammonia and the new wave of biofuels. “The acquisition will allow the company to develop test programmes for alternative fuels including bio-fuels, electro-synthetic and blue gas fuels”, said president Sangem Hsu in a statement.
In the testing of ballast water and related systems, China is expected to be the centre of activity as the tougher D2 standards bite between now and September 2024. Among other requirements, new ships must meet the D2 standards and all ships must have a ballast water management plan, complete with record book and appropriate certification.
As the IMO explains, the main difference between D1 and D2 is that the first relates principally to ballast water exchange, while the latest set of regulations are much more precise and demanding, specifying the maximum permitted amount of viable organisms that can be discharged, including specified indicator microbes harmful to human health. It all comes down to less than 10 viable organisms per millilitre – and that requires expert analysis.
The installation and commissioning of these systems takes place mainly in China, which is why Maritec will offer full-scale ballast water, potable water, sewage water and scrubber water testing from major ports in China and Singapore.
Clearly, testing and analysis of fuels as well as of water is becoming increasingly complex and important, given the consequences. But not all shipowners understand the issues. Despite November’s IMO meeting trying to sort out problems, confusion reigns, according to Maritec.
“The confusion around ballast water treatment system-type approval and commissioning testing stems from the notion that buying and installing a ballast water treatment system that is type-approved by IMO and/or the US Coast Guard should be a sufficient investment to meet the required regulations,” the group explained in a paper in February. “[But] there’s a big difference between type approval and testing.”
Also, operators do not seem to understand how strict the regulations are, as CTI-Maritec global business development manager, Michael Haraldsson, told a Riviera-organised webinar in mid-February.
Asked about the main contaminants that affect engines, CTI-Maritec’s central marketing manager Ken Zhang says: “Residue fuel itself is a dirty product and the contaminants can vary across the globe. There is the basic one like water – ISO8217 specifies a limit at 0.50%m/m – [and] the complicated ones like non-hydrocarbon compounds, or chemical contamination.”
The most common problem labs are finding post the introduction of IMO2020 VLSFO is fuel stability, rather than contamination. Says Mr Zhang: “We are seeing higher total sediment potential (TSP) compared to before. Very often these fuels with high TSP have a very low stability reserve. This exhibits a higher potential for asphaltenes to precipitate and lead to the formation of sludge over time, causing various operational problems.”
“There’s a big difference between type approval and testing”
It is a similar story with ballast water, especially as maritime jurisdictions become more concerned about contamination of their waters. “Quantitative data show that the rate of bio-invasions is continuing to increase at an alarming rate and new areas are being invaded all the time,” warns IMO in a paper about ballast water management.
According to CTI-Maritec, ballast water systems should be put through a rigorous assessment once a year, but some ships should be tested more frequently. For instance, vessels trading in US waters should be put through a compliance regime at least twice a year it says.
“We would say that the biggest problems are with retrofitting”, says Mr Zhang. “If you don’t clean the tanks and fix leaking valves, the system will most likely not comply to IMO or VGP regulations, if the vessel requires this approval as well.”
The situation is worse for the many shipyards that are located on dirty rivers. “This can create problems for UV systems that might require cleaner water and other systems that require salt water,” Mr Zhang says. “In these cases, the commissioning testing will most likely happen at a later stage, which technically is not legal, but we will see what authorities say about this in the future.”
Meantime, the testing process itself can be difficult. “The toughest job from a testing company’s view,” says Mr Zhang, “is to collect 50+ micrometre organisms [a millionth of a metre] from a minimum of one cubic metre of water without contaminating the sample you have collected.” He adds: “This is why it is important to use experienced sea-going people who know life onboard a vessel and how to collect samples.”