Many shipowners have still not made vital decisions about their ballast water management strategy, according to Tore Andersen, executive vice president of the ballast water management system (BWMS) maker Optimarin.
“Less than 15% of the market has got a system on board,” he told ShipInsight during a video interview recorded during last month’s Nor-Shipping exhibition. There is “a huge fleet” of ships still needing retrofits and many shipowners “are fumbling around” as they make their BWMS decisions, he said. For large owners who might be thinking of sharing their orders among a number of makers, he had this warning: “it’s a long process and the time is flying.”
In part, he blamed companies’ finance departments. Installing a BWMS is a big investment that does not provide a benefit such as increased speed or reduced fuel, he acknowledged. But it is necessary for compliance, he pointed out. “I think [companies’] technical divisions have probably made up their minds. They have started talking to us and the competitors but the final stamp from the finance department is quite hard to get.”
He understands why: Some markets – such as in the offshore sector – have been struggling financially and shipowners working in them do not have funds available to invest. But that creates the risk that, when a decision is finally made, there is little time left for a manufacturer to produce a BWMS and arrange for its installation. Four-to-six months delivery time is normal, he said, and “we can help a few within a month or two, but we cannot do that for everybody. That’s impossible.”
One reason why it is difficult for a supplier to meet tight deadlines is because the BWMS makers all buy components – such as filters and power supply units – from the same pool of suppliers. “We have been waiting for 25 years for this so we are quite well prepared but our sub-suppliers have to build a factory [or] increase from two shifts to three shifts” as they ramp up their production. “That’s not done overnight. So the longer you wait it’s more of a struggle to get the product you really want.”
Optimarin has adopted a marketing approach to address these delays by urging shipowners to ‘take it easy’. Mr Andersen’s message to them is that “if you come to Optimarin, we have done this for so many years [so] we can assist you from the beginning to the end.” Nonetheless, “you have to make a decision.” And in case any shipowners believe they will get lower prices if they delay, he promised that that would not happen. “That’s not our intention.”
Then there is the all-important drydock availability. They can normally be booked about three months in advance but as BWMS installation deadlines approach, that will become more difficult, he said. Engineering services will also be stretched – partly because of the numbers of scrubbers being installed – and class societies will need time and resources to approve installation plans.
For those who take up Mr Andersen’s ‘easy’ offer, “we can we can make sure that engineering is done so the drawings and everything else is approved” before looking for a yard. “And we can recommend quite a few shipyards that have been working with our product for many years.” But this requires shipowners to take action: “please make a decision and start doing something.”