Ballast water management systems (BWMSs) are not as reliable in practice as manufacturers promise, according to two shipping company executives at a conference in China last September
Addressing the International BWM Technology and Standardization Forum, organised by the Shipbuilding Information Center of China (SICC) and BIMCO, Hong Kong-based Wah Kwong chief operating officer Zhou Jian Feng, told delegates about unsatisfactory BWMS performance, based on experience with systems fitted on 36% of the company’s fleet.
When he made that presentation, Wah Kwong listed 22 ships on its website, suggesting that it had then equipped eight ships with BWMSs. As of the time of writing in early May, it names 21 ships on its site, including six tankers – two VLCCs and four Aframaxes.
Capt Zhou listed four problem areas, with filter clogging as his first concern. He cited one newbuilding on which the filter failed when the crew first operated it and while its manufacturer’s representative was still on board.
He also mentioned total residual oxidant (TRO) sensors – saying that their readings are unstable and can seem illogical – and flow rate meters, which can indicate incorrect rates, he said. As a result of the problems, “crews have lost confidence in operating the systems,” he said. They also cause delays to ship operations and “bring extra commercial risks to shipowners”.
Capt Zhou was also critical of the after-sales service available, describing it as inadequate. “Both the quantity and quality of the service engineers are below expectations,” he said. One system was inoperable for nine months awaiting repair, he added.
He recommended that companies develop contingency plans “for all foreseeable situations” in case their systems fail and include details in their ballast water management plans. “In the meantime, we hope that manufacturers can continuously improve [the] design and stability of their BWMS and provide sufficient and effective after-sales service and support,” he said.
Capt Zhou’s comments were echoed by Wallem Shipmanagement group technical director Ioannis Stefanou, who is also based in Hong Kong. The manager does not publish a fleet list, but it is thought to number about 190 ships, including a significant number of tankers.
Ships under Wallem’s management use systems from nine manufacturers across five technologies, Mr Stefanou said. “When they are sold, we are told they are very easy to operate – just press one button – but in reality it’s not like this,” he said. When he compiled a ‘snapshot’ of the situation for his paper, 46% of the systems on ships the company then managed were not fully operational.
He listed five main areas where equipment creates problems: TRO sensors; systems valves; control units; filters; and flow meters – but noted that those were just a few from “a huge list”.
“It’s worrying,” Mr Stefanou said, pointing out that each of these technologies is used in other areas of industry, but “in the marine environment they don’t last as long as we would like them to”.
Unlike Capt Zhou, he paid tribute to suppliers for their “superb response and assistance” to rectify issues, but said that some “are not familiar with their own systems” because few have been installed and operated. Nonetheless, Mr Stefanou said, “manufacturers have been very helpful [in] resolving any issues,” although some are hampered by their limited service network.