BWexit — an accountant’s choice?

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

26 September 2017


The following is written by Andrew Marshall, Chief Executive Officer at Coldharbour Marine.

2016? An extraordinary year! Trump won the Whitehouse. Britain voted to exit the EU, and the IMO finally managed to secure ratification of International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments - aka the BWT Convention to you and I!

IMO had spent almost 15 years agreeing the structure of the BWT Convention before it was adopted in 2004. It took until 2016 to get it ratified.

By the time the last vessels are retrofitted in 2024, more than 35 years will have elapsed from everyone recognising that something needed to be done, to actually getting everyone to do something.

Still, some would argue that the approach taken by IMO to the problem of invasive species is so wrong, so fraught with unanswered questions and uncertainties and so contentious in application as to render it requiring of abandonment, even at this late stage.

Add in some unhelpful parties on all sides that are engaged in the wilful dissemination of grossly inaccurate information, including fanciful product performance claims and you have all the ingredients for an impending disaster of, well, Brexit proportions. What might be termed as the marine industry’s own BWexit!

At least that is how it looks on the surface. But the reality is different.

35 years of environmental darkness ends in September 2017 as the lights of BWT Convention implementation (UV or otherwise) begin to shine.

BWexit, like Brexit, is happening.

Just like Brexit Remainers, there are still some people determined to pretend that it’s all too hard to understand and impossible to do. But most owners, like most British folk, are now knuckling down and sorting things out.

Andrew Marshall, Chief Executive Officer at Coldharbour Marine[/caption]

There is a recognition that homework needs to be done, the science followed, and informed decisions to be made if they want successful BWT installations. Instead of the predicted disaster, life continues. (although hopefully not in ballast tanks for much longer!)

The EU has indicated it would like £100 billion from the UK during Brexit. Thankfully the ship owners know that their BWexit bill will be far less, but perhaps not as little as they might have hoped.

As one ship owner said recently – “it’s a lot of money for a decent BWTS, but it’s a HUGE amount of money if I get it wrong and buy something that wrecks my vessel schedules and loses me business”

He is right of course. Whilst cheap equipment is nice on the day owner signs the cheque, it may not always be the bargain it appears to be and may not protect schedules, charter agreements or the owners’ bank balance.

Likewise, Approval Certificates mean nothing once the realities of day to day operations intrude.

Fancy guarantees and inch-thick instruction manuals will count for nought in 3 years time when your BWT system decides not to play ball at that critical moment when the man from Port State Control, is poised hungrily on your gangway.

Some uncertainties will only be properly alleviated through hands on experience. Unfortunately there is still precious little BWTS operating experience to share amongst owners, and such as there is, is far from satisfactory.

In the end success or failure will depend on the engineers who operate the equipment, who have to keep it running no matter what the circumstances, who must deliver the results demanded by IMO, USCG and others.

Brexit may be a leap into the relative unknown, but in that respect if differs massively from BWexit because from an engineering standpoint, very little is truly unknown when it comes to the various BWT technologies - including their respective limitations and strengths.

Owners must ask the right questions, taking into account their vessel operating parameters. The real issue is whether owners are willing to accept the answers, even if they are not what owner’s accountants want to hear!

The marine industry is blessed with dedicated, talented engineers. People who find solutions to problems whilst in the middle of the ocean, without access to the facilities that those on shore take for granted.

Forget the accountants with their “it’s cheap, buy it! what is it?” approach to equipment procurement. Instead hand, BWTS selection over to the engineers. The application of their talents, coupled with large applications of common sense and experience will see most ship owners through to successful BWTS conclusions. Just as with Brexit, you may not like the size of cheque you’re going to write on day one, but by day 1,000 you will be smiling at the disaster you avoided.