US approval – why the long delays?

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

01 January 2017

In complete contrast to the IMO convention where there were more than 60 systems type approved before it was ratified, the US ballast regime requiring a treatment system installed came into effect almost three full years before a single system had been type-approved. In accordance with the timetable shown below several vessels built before 1 December 2013 should also be fitted with type approved systems by now. The temporary fix by the US Coast Guard was to establish the Alternate Management systems rule that allows ships to use systems type-approved by other administrations providing they prove acceptable to the USCG. Not all IMO type-approved systems have been granted AMS status and many of those that have been accepted have limitations as to their use within the three categories of water salinity. Use of an AMS approved system has a time limit of five years after which the ship has to fit an approved system if one is available or apply for a further extension. As at the beginning of December 2016, 56 systems had been granted AMS status including the Optimarin, Alfa Laval and Oceansaver systems which have now become the first systems to achieve USCG Type-approval. There is a minor caveat with regards to the approval in the Optimarine system in that it does not meet the requirements of 46 CFR 111.105 and may not be installed in hazardous locations on US flag vessels. The OBS Ex model which is ATEX Zone 1 approved, may be installed in hazardous locations only on a foreign flag vessel subject to approval of the foreign administration. Now that a type approved BWMS is available, any owner/operator requesting an extension to the compliance dates shown in the table above must provide the USCG with an explicit statement supported by documentary evidence (eg, a delay in commercial availability) that installation of the type approved system is not possible for purposes of compliance with the regulatory implementation schedule. Following the Optimarin type-approval the USCG has issued an explanation note that will allay some of the concerns of owners. The note reiterates the situation saying ‘Commercial seagoing ships operating in US waters (within 12 nautical miles) and not otherwise exempted are required to manage ballast water in one of five ways:
  1. Use a US type-approved BWMS to meet the discharge standard;
  2. Temporarily use a foreign type-approved BWMS that has been accepted by the USCG as an AMS;
  3. Use and discharge ballast water obtained exclusively from a US public water system;
  4. Discharge ballast water to a reception facility;
  5. Do not discharge ballast water inside 12 nautical miles.
Extensions are allowed for by regulation (33 C.F.R. § 151.2036). Therefore, the USCG will continue to accept requests for extensions. An extension to a vessel’s compliance date may be granted in cases where the ship owner/operator can document that despite all efforts, compliance with the requirements listed above is not possible. If an applicant is unable to clearly document that compliance is not possible, the vessel will not be granted an extension and will have to employ one of the approved ballast water management methods specified in 33 C.F.R. § 151.1510 or § 151.2025. If granted, the length of the extension will be for the minimum time needed, as determined by the USCG and based on the documentation provided, for the vessel to comply with the ballast water discharge standard and other regulatory requirements. For example, if an applicant provides documentation that a vessel’s drydocking was postponed by three months, that applicant may receive a letter extending compliance for only three months. These determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis.
  • Written correspondence between the owner/operator and the applicable BWMS manufacturer(s) that confirm BWMS are not available for installation on that particular vessel or class of vessels until after the compliance date.
  • Vessel design limitations with type approved BWMS currently available.
  • Safety concerns related to installing type approved systems currently available.
  • Any other situation that may preclude a vessel from being fitted with a type approved system.
The USCG has previously said that extensions will be granted until:
  • Sufficient number of suitable BWMS have received USCG type approval
  • Sufficient, suitable models are available
  • Drydock availability is not limited
  • Issues from installation and commissioning are resolved.
It is generally accepted that the USCG type-approval process for ballast treatment systems was always more rigorous than the IMO G8 process. This may no longer be the case when the latest revisions to the G8 process adopted at MEPC 70 are applied. The rigour of the USCG process has been a key factor in the lack of US type-approved systems. Because an independent laboratory must show the system to work under a variety of conditions, the shore and shipboard test phases tests cannot be carried out unless the right conditions are available. The US rules also require that shipboard testing must be conducted in at least two distinct geographic locations to provide a range of geographic variability. This can mean that ship that is operating for long periods in a single area cannot satisfy this requirement without making a voyage to a different area and even then conditions may not be suitable for the test to take place say due to a lack of organisms in the ballast uptake. It is not surprising that this means testing can take as long as 24 months to achieve from beginning to end. The US process requires independent laboratories to be used for the testing process which is far more prescriptive than the IMO model. This means that for most systems that achieved IMO type-approval before beginning the US process, any test results and data already collected during the IMO process is not acceptable as evidence of the system’s efficacy. Only commercially ready systems are permitted to be tested for US type-approval and successful results will only be credited to the system configuration being tested. Any change of components such as filters, UV reactors, cleaning systems or dosing units will require a new testing process of the shore tests at the very least. This can make the process of obtaining US type-approval an expensive undertaking. It also means that an owner may find itself with an invalid system if the components used do not comply with those in the tested unit. Before any testing can be commenced, the system maker must submit a Letter of Intent at least 30 days in advance of any testing to allow the authorities to satisfy themselves as to the fitness of the system and facility to conduct tests. The register of LoIs produced in early December 2016 shows that 42 systems have been proposed for testing. All but two of these were submitted after 1 December 2013 which was the date when all new buildings were initially supposed to be fitted with treatment systems. Some makers have submitted more than one LoI as each application can cover one system type only. Three of the applications have reached the point where type-approval has been applied for. Optimarin has of course completed the course as have OceanSaver and Alfa Laval. One LoI is from an organisation listed as Eaton which does not appear in the ShipInsight ballast system makers records.