Shipowners are finding the considerable investment they have made on ballast water management systems (BWMS) does not necessarily mean a ship will remain compliant with the convention
The most recent results of the American Bureau of Shipping’s BWMS Operational Experience Survey exposed just how widespread these issues are, as 59% of shipowners reported their BWMS experienced operational problems, with an additional 6% reporting completely inoperable systems.
With over 100 models of BWMS on the market, each operated differently, crew training can become an administrative nightmare for an owner. Add into this the scarcity of some kinds of training and peaks in demand, and the ease at which a shipowner can unwittingly fail to provide adequate training becomes clear.
It is worth remembering that many operational failures cannot be seen with the naked eye, while there is no requirement to fully analyse the data readouts produced by the BWMS. This data may show there is an operational issue or technical fault before a shipowner becomes liable for a fine. Yet it can be unreasonably complex for an onsite crew to fully process, and building the capacity to do so can be costly. These costs to compliance can quickly add up, especially when a shipowner is forced to act reactively.
To add to this confusion, regulatory uncertainty poses a separate risk. IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention (BWMC) delegates responsibility for creating compliance testing processes and standards to the IMO, and yet these standards have not yet been written and approved. This leaves the door open for a lot of ‘what-ifs’. Different standards for indicative compliance testing or sampling have different inaccuracies and margins for error.
Whatever form compliance testing eventually takes, it may mean significant delays for compliant shipowners and an additional financial risk. Article 12 of the BWMC may forbid ‘undue’ delay to ships, yet lawyers are hopelessly divided on the definition of ‘undue’. Owners do not yet know if they could be delayed for 30 minutes or 3 days for additional sampling without receiving compensation for their losses.
Risks stemming from this uncertainty can be best minimised by installing systems that ensure a treatment standard greater than IMO’s minimum standard. This will take results outside of the realms of an indicative test’s margin for error, or the standard required for any preliminary testing standards.
Other risks can be minimised by BWMS manufacturers. At De Nora, we have gone to great lengths to ensure we provide training alongside any installation, that data from our BALPURE system is read and analysed by experts operating remotely and feedback is provided to the operators. This is vital for shipowners and, we believe, is our responsibility to the market as suppliers.
As ballast water regulations enter their next phase, operational compliance is set to become an even more pressing issue. While shipowners face hidden operational challenges in ensuring continued compliance, BWMS manufacturers and regulators need to do more to simplify the task.