The impact of Covid-19, coupled with shipowners trying to combine BWMS and scrubber retrofits simultaneously, has place a huge strain on already overburdened shipyards
Mouawad Consulting chief executive officer Jad Mouawad has vast experience in conducting ballast water treatment system (BWTS) retrofit installations. His firm has issued type-approval certificates for more than 11 ballast water management systems (BWMS). It also initiated the development of the first DNV GL rules for installation of BWMS onboard ships. Speaking at Riviera Maritime Media’s Overcoming bottlenecks on BWMS retrofit installation and operation” webinar, he discussed the expected number of BWMS retrofit installations, based on the vessel’s IOPP renewal dates. “We had a huge number of ships de-coupling the IOPP certificate just prior to 2017, which has resulted in a peak,” he said. However, his expectation is that vessels will continue to follow their original drydocking schedule. “We expect the curve to be flatter,” he added.
Mr Mouawad said that the installation challenge might be slightly reduced because shipowners and operators are not going to book retrofit installations specifically on the date of the IOPP certificate date; rather they will align the work with the drydocking before the date. “We see the uptake of systems will be more or less equal next year (2021) and in 2022 and 2023. The uptake will then more or less disappear by 2024,” he said. From then onwards, the emphasis will be on newbuildings, which he estimates at around 2,000 units per year. “Hopefully, we have less of a bottleneck than feared,” he said.
If the emerging macro picture indicates that the worst of the bottleneck might be avoided, it also raises another issue: mass non-compliance. “If there is a rush to install systems in a hurry and due diligence is not followed, there is the fear that there will be a large number of poorly installed systems,” said Mr Mouawad.
21 Knots is an engineering firm engaged in numerous retrofit installations around the world. Chief executive officer and naval architect Nitesh Ranvah has direct experience of how ballast water installations are taking place in shipyards. The high demand for BWMS retrofit installations, coupled with the impact of Covid-19, has hampered planning, said Mr Ranvah. He listed the elements creating the bottlenecks as: access to yards and yard labour; OEM equipment delays; and the Covid-19 risk to crews from yard personnel. Although the lockdown is easing in some parts of the world, there is still a lot of suspicion surrounding the pandemic. Mr Ranvah cited the example of a vessel held in quarantine for 14 days before it could enter a shipyard in Turkey.
“For the best results, the manufacturer’s oversight of the BWMS installation is highly recommended”
Despite this, in a poll conducted among those attending the Overcoming bottlenecks on BWMS retrofit installation and operation webinar, 36% listed Europe as the preferred geography for BWTS installations. Somewhat surprisingly, given the challenges it involves, on-voyage installations were the choice of nearly a third of those taking part in the webinar (32%); China and South East Asia was the choice of 28% of the respondents, with the remainder (4%) choosing the Middle East.
The on-voyage installation option has a number of challenges, including the cost of the riding crew to work on the installation, gaining class approval and the impact on the workings of the ship while the installation takes place. It is all too easy to forget to take an essential part onboard or to have one damaged. In a poll, webinar attendees ranked the on-voyage installation challenges as:
In a poll on the most efficient way to tackle the bottleneck, a third (33%) chose increased capacity outside China and 29% chose extension of the deadlines. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most probable, most attendees (42%) chose option 4, suggesting most anticipated an extension to current deadlines.
Mr Ranvah warned shipowners and operators not to rely on the concept of a sister-ship, and that one set of plans and 3D scans do not fit across a pair of vessels from the same dock. Onboard assessment and 3-D scanning is essential on a ship-by-ship basis to avoid engineering issues months later.
BWTS supplier Ecochlor’s technical manager Tyler Harvey explained that the lockdowns stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic may be easing, but the situation still presents a major challenge. He noted that ships that were expected to spend 25 - 30 days in the shipyard for a BWMS retrofit are now commonly there for between 45 and 60 days, partly due to problems arising with joint scrubber/BWMS installation work: “This is not only an unexpected financial and scheduling burden for the vessel operators, it also delays future projects from entering the shipyard on their scheduled dates.”
“Lockdowns may be easing, but the situation still presents a major challenge”
Despite meticulous planning, it takes very little to upset a crowded engineering schedule. Many shipyards and suppliers are facing significant delays in deliveries. Mr Harvey said: “There are local restrictions on transportation (closed highways and trains) and 14+ day quarantine periods are now in place for workers returning to the shipyard. The biggest issue affecting our commissioning of systems at the start of 2020 has been transportation delays for supplies, and restrictions on workers due to the epidemic. We are in daily contact with our suppliers to ensure that the risk to our clients is minimalised.”
With the number of installations scheduled to grow significantly in 2021 and again in 2022, BWMS suppliers are warning that it is more important than ever for the shipowner to start the pre-planning as early as possible. A spike in lead times in shipyards will increase and the availability of space will likely decrease, with even the most meticulous planner ending up with results that are far from satisfactory.
From a BWMS installer’s point of view, there is also a difference between the owners’ perception of shipyard capabilities and the reality. It might be assumed that the sheer number of retrofits that have been completed over these last few years would mean shipyards have attained plenty experience in the installation process. But Ecochlor’s Mr Harvey said that is not always the case: “There is not a lot of carryover from project-to-project by the shipyard. With the volume of vessels in shipyards and the constant turnover of the workforce, proper installation and the quality of the installation is an on-going concern. Additionally, with a few exceptions, superintendents don’t have the time to devote their entire attention to the installation of a BWMS, since the retrofit is only a portion of the total projects that need to happen in the shipyard during a drydock, especially combined with scrubber installations. For the best results, the manufacturer’s oversight of the installation is highly recommended.”
Ecochlor director of operations Justin Knight is tasked with co-ordinating the logistics for all Ecochlor installations worldwide. One of the challenges he faces with shipowners is co-ordinating the drydock schedules and shipyard location for the delivery of Ecochlor’s systems. Mr Knight said: “I understand plans can change, but sometimes we don’t find out the information in time and it has created logistical problems that can lead to missed deliverables.”
Having seen just about everything that can possibly go wrong when planning a drydock retrofit, Mr Knight has some suggestions to ensure that the drydock period is logistically as trouble-free as possible. He recommends the following:
Ecochlor chief executive officer, Steve Candito, believes that every installation is a learning opportunity for the engineering team. He said: “Our service group has been able to draw on a vast amount of experience ─ more than 19 years and over 125 vessels since our first retrofit ─ to better prepare for, and continually improve our procedures for all BWMS installations for our clients.”