Commercial, not technical, factors dictate most ballast system purchase decisions, consultant UniBallast has found
Shipowners choose their ballast water management system (BWMS) based more on commercial factors than on technical considerations, according to the independent Dutch consultant UniBallast. It specialises in providing advice on ballast water management systems (BWMSs) for seagoing vessels and, in 2016, launched an online tool to help shipowners select suitable systems for their ships.
Using the experience and feedback it has gained from reviewing how the tool has been used, together with discussions with shipowners as part of its wider consultancy services, UniBallast owner and director Fulko Roos has prepared an exclusive overview for BWTT in which he considers the implications of the decisions shipowners are making.
UniBallast’s finding that commercial considerations take precedence came as a surprise because its tool was designed to help ship operators select from available treatment systems based on various parameters, such as unit size, working method and type-approval status. This would be in line with decisions on other parts of a ship’s equipment package and agreements about its propulsion train, so making decisions on non-technical grounds “strongly limits the flexibility of owners and operators regarding BWMS selection,” UniBallast’s report said.
When shipowners do start with technology in mind, UniBallast has noticed that they are very much focused on a specific type of treatment system, such as UV or chemical, or on a specific system maker. “We came across this when doing some feasibility studies and basic and detailed engineering for retrofits,” the company said. At the time it became involved in these early studies or in the later engineering aspects of the treatment system, “most of the time the selection had already been made.”
Unfortunately, in UniBallast’s view, “the shipowner had not always selected the system that fitted the type of ship and its operational profile best,” its report said. “This reduces much-sought-after flexibility,” it added, and as if to underline its finding about commercial priorities, it remarked that representatives in shipowners’ technical departments confirmed this trend.
Impact of delay
When IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee agreed to delay installation dates for BWMSs at its 71st meeting in July 2017, manufacturers immediately noticed a setback because of the postponement.
But this has had two contrasting impacts on their business, UniBallast believes. On one hand, it is an unfortunate event, because some BWMS makers will leave the market, leaving less choice for vessel owners. But on the other hand, it buys extra time for existing makers to improve their systems further.
UniBallast reported seeing this trend clearly from its database updates, recording that some types of BWMSs were revoked at some point and others modified to meet market demands and regulations. Some makers were, for example, able to introduce systems that could reduce the holding time to zero, while others made their systems much more compact or improved on the maintenance space required.
As a result of these updates, “we are currently working on an updated version 26,” the report said in late February. Those updates also revealed that its online tool has proved valuable for BWMS makers, as well as the owners and operators it was designed for. “In general, they seemed very pleased with the selection tool,” its report said. “For some reason we did not expect this.”
Overall, “we are positive about the future,” UniBallast’s report said. “Postponement does not mean cancellation of the implementation of the convention and ballast water treatment is a way to improve the quality of our oceans: something we should all be concerned about.” Mr Roos was pleased to see increasing numbers of manufacturers applying for US Coast Guard type-approval.
UniBallast welcomed renewed interest in the concept of in-port treatment facilities around the world. This would help address what the consultant views as a significant concern for shipowners, and would offer them flexibility in case systems break down or additional treatment capacity is required. UniBallast is planning to develop an additional selection tool that would detail in-port treatment systems and their locations, providing an overview of treatment system types, connection details and flow capacities.
In support of such treatment options, “we have a complete concept ready for this which we are continuously discussing with various ports to optimise and fit to meet existing port-related rules and regulations,” its paper said. That concept is its IACS-type approved Universal Ballastwater Port Connector. If adopted, it would allow ballast water to be discharged to any treatment facility, such as a portable container with a built-in BWMS. “It would be even better if this could lead to an international standard,” its paper said.
In an effort to achieve that aim, UniBallast has joined the ISO 23055 Expert Working Group that is developing standards for an International Ballast Water Transfer Connection Flange, in accordance with the IMO Guidelines for Ballast Water Reception Facilities G5.
How to select a BWMS
Shipowners may not be considering all the options available to them when selecting a ballast water management system, suggested the Dutch independent consultant UniBallast in an exclusive report prepared for BWTT (see main article).
There are various methods of treating ballast water and makers will, of course, recommend their own systems, its report notes. But shipowners and operators should take the first step by making a feasibility study that at least takes into account their ships’ operational profile, current ballast water capacity, space requirements and level of technical knowledge within the company, UniBallast’s report urged. This type of study should compare different technologies and take into account all disciplines involved in the installation, and give owners figures and clear conclusions about the pros and cons of each analysed system.
Their operation profiles, for example, will dictate whether an in-line or in-tank treatment system would be the best fit and UniBallast plans to add this selection criterion to a later version of its online system selection tool. For example, based on a ship’s operational profile or sailing areas, some manufacturers reduce their system’s treatment rate capacity (TRC) by up to 10% of the standard specification in low-clarity water, which may increase ballast operation time, making those systems unsuitable for high-stress port operations. On the other hand, if ballasting or de-ballasting time is not an issue for an owner, selecting a unit with a small TRC could save equipment and installation costs.
Another operational factor is whether a US Coast Guard type-approved unit is needed. If so, at the moment that reduces the available technologies and manufacturers drastically, Uniballast’s report noted, so this selection criterion should be based on a ‘must-have’ and not just a ‘nice-to-have’ requirement, it advised.
Containerised systems should also be considered in some situations, such as for barges. For example, some barges have a ballast system installed, while others do not. For those that do, this will be one of the key drivers to select on onboard system – either in-line or in-tank – or a containerised solution, and “we really did expect to give much more independent advice” on these considerations, UniBallast’s paper said. This possibility is another feature that UniBallast plans to add to its selection tool, so that it can indicate when an approved containerised version of a BWMS is available, approved and can operate under T0-conditions, which allow zero holding time.
Some data that would be helpful in choosing a BWMS is not readily available from makers or their websites. For example, said UniBallast, downtime figures, ease of operation and maintenance cost per unit. These depend on how the system is used, the maintenance performed by the crew on board and other variables, “making it a subjective figure difficult to quantify,” UniBallast said.