Filtersafe head of marine Mark Riggio reflects on the ballast water sector since the 2004 Ballast Water Management Convention and looks forward to MEPC 76
There has always been an inherent danger to the ballast water market. As someone who has been involved with ballast water treatment systems (BWTS) since 2006, I am acutely aware of the long history of the market. It is a history of highs and lows, but mostly I would characterise it as ’the great waiting.’
We waited for IMO. We waited for the US Coast Guard. We waited for Finland. We waited for implementation. We waited for shipowners.
And the danger of all this waiting is complacency. But while we waited, time has not waited for us. And, in one of the trickiest twists of the market, something happened a couple of months ago that we may have missed: the halfway point.
That is right, we are now just over halfway through the retrofit phase of the 2004 IMO Ballast Water Management Convention. That mythical implementation date of 9 September 2018 was 32 months ago. And that means there are only 28 months left in the retrofit timeline.
And the data from Clarksons confirms this. As of 1 May, Clarksons’ World Fleet Register shows 20,483 vessels have installed or ordered a BWTS. Regardless of what you consider the ‘full’ market to be, that is a significant percentage of the available vessels. So, what are we waiting for now?
More importantly, what are we – as an industry – doing to assess the situation so far?
As MEPC 76 approaches, papers have been submitted about BWTS performance in challenging water conditions. This is not a new phenomenon. Manufacturers have been cautioning the market that you need to be careful to match your BWTS to your vessels’ routes. Does buying a system that fails to work where your ship operates absolve a ship from compliance? I certainly hope not.
But this is just one of the challenges the BWTS industry has faced and system users have experienced. I would like to say it will get better, but I try to be realistic. We can, though, do something about it.
During almost any sporting event, midway through the game, the teams go back to the locker room and regroup. They analyse the first half of the game and make adjustments to their game plan. They cannot change the rules. The game is the game. But they sit down and talk about how to make the outcome of the second half better than the first.
Sounds like something we should be doing.
Remember: shipowners and treatment manufacturers are not on separate teams here. We are all on the same side, competing against the environmental impact of shipping. If we think we are competing against each other, we are no different than a star midfielder who is more concerned with scoring goals than whether their team succeeds. While that makes for spectacular television and sells merchandise, it does not make champions.
We need to seize this moment and start communicating with each other. We need to use conferences, scientific papers, technical meetings, industry groups, webinars, and even social media to spread best practices and to help solve the industry challenges. We need to recover from this Covid-induced hibernation and rededicate to solutions rather than blame. We need to advance the science of ballast water treatment by recognising this is a team game, not a game where everyone is trying to pad their own statistics.
We may think we can change the rules by granting exemptions to compliance, but that is not the case. In reality, it changes the way we play the game. The real goal is whether or not we leave the world as we found it and softening the regulation does not help us win that game.
We can all play this game better but to do that, we need to start playing as a team. Strikers score, midfielders control play, defenders defend, and the goalie protects the net. We each have our part and if we play as a team we will win. If we fail to do so, the second half of this game may look even worse than the first half.
We can soften the requirements of the Convention but what will that accomplish? What if all the effort, money, and the sacrifices are put forth and we do not accomplish the goal? Instead of softening our goals, we should move forward as one team dedicated to implementing the right technologies while improving the way our crews manage ballast water to gain lasting value from the investments which we are all making.
To do any less will be seen as failure.