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Compliance and enforcement of ballast water treatment systems

Port State Control on ballast water

Port State Control on ballast water

Stopping the transfer of invasive species and harmful organisms is at the heart of ballast water treatment. However, the organisms are mostly microscopic and not visible to the naked eye. More to the point, ballast water systems are not meant to make observation easy but to move very large quantities of water in quite short spans of time.

Crew can monitor and measure the flow rate of ballast and will know if a filter is blocked but not if it is worn to the point where it allows larger organisms through the screens. Crew can also check the salinity of the water so would likely know if the water is outside the parameters the electrochlorination or electrolysis type system is able to operate with.

Similarly, they might be able to determine if the water is too turbid for a UV system to work effectively. Unlike monitoring exhaust systems where gas detecting sensors can measure very small changes in the make-up of the exhaust or treating bilge water through a separator equipped with a 15ppm alarm, determining if ballast water meets the convention requirements is not possible on a continuous basis. In practice it is almost impossible to even know if a system is operating as it is meant to.

The IMO type-approval process recognises that not all systems will work under all circumstances. In the introduction section of the 2016 guidelines, point 1.5 says:

The requirements of regulation D-3 stipulate that ballast water management systems used to comply with the Convention must be approved by the Administration, taking into account these Guidelines. In addition to such ballast water management system approval, as set forth in regulation A-2 and regulation B-3, the Convention requires that discharges of ballast water from ships must meet the regulation D-2 performance standard on an on-going basis. Approval of a system is intended to screen-out management systems that would fail to meet the standards prescribed in regulation D-2 of the Convention. Approval of a system, however, does not ensure that a given system will work on all ships or in all situations. To satisfy the Convention, a discharge must comply with the D-2 standard throughout the life of the ship.

Thus it appears that under the G8 process, system makers are expected to set out the circumstances under which a system may not or cannot effectively treat the ballast in its operating manual. However, it offers no assistance to crews as to what to do under the circumstances.

So it is clear that, while the IMO recognises that systems may sometimes not be capable of meeting the discharge standard, the ship is not excused from doing so. For their part, ships’ crews should generally be capable of operating the equipment on board and to understand when it is not working correctly as regards pumping or flow of the water.

However, with ballast water treatment regulations laying down allowed levels of micro-organisms that are permitted to be viable, seafarers who are not expected to be trained microbiologists will have great difficulty determining if the treatment process has been effective. For all practical purposes treated ballast is indistinguishable from the water that passed through the initial filter when taken on board whether the treatment was effective or not.

Almost nobody expects that when ships are obliged to use a treatment system there will be no PSC inspections of the system operation and its ability to meet the discharge standard.

Sampling by PSC inspectors will usually involve laboratory testing with the results known only after what may be a considerable delay. This all leaves shipowners open to penalties if the treatment system is defective for any reason.

Despite assurances to the contrary, there are many experts who argue that a 100% kill rate is an impossible target for any system. That should be a worry for owners as PSC authorities are not known for their leniency and, in certain cases, failure to meet requirements is seen as a revenue stream for governments and regulatory bodies as many owners who have fallen foul of ISM inspections can testify. The IMO may talk about contingency arrangements, but it has no control over the action of governments that do not wish to fall in with those arrangements.

IMO Experience building Phase

IMO Experience building Phase

When the IMO revisited its G8 type approval procedures and issued new guidelines in 2016 that were later made mandatory, it did so because of reported difficulties with systems not operating as intended. With the impending coming into effect of the treaty the following year, the IMO could not ignore the issue any longer.

The anecdotal evidence of systems failure was well publicised but until a survey carried out by the classification society ABS in 2018 was published in 2019 the true extent had never been quantified.

The report found issues with more than half of the systems included in the survey. Some of the common problems included unstable sensors, frequent failing of UV lamps, filter clogging and issues when operating in low-salinity waters. The ABS report also stated that most IMO and USCG type-approved systems are, to date, not suitable for use when gravity-discharging topside tanks which is a particular problem for bulk carriers.

Aside from filter clogging which would require regular flushing and consequent time delays for the ship, none of the problems would necessarily impact the ballasting or deballasting process nor affect the stability of the ship. The problem of a non-performing system only arises for enforcement and contractual matters.

Experience building underway

At MEPC 72 it was agreed that a review and amendments to the convention would likely take place in the Autumn of 2022. This would allow for three years of data from an earlier experience-building phase (EBP) running from 2017 through to 2020 and eighteen months of analysis of data gathered.

Currently the IMO is in the data gathering stage of its EBP and should be moving to the data analysis stage before any changes to the 2004 convention are considered and enacted. During EBP the IMO recommends that ships should not be penalised for not meeting the convention requirements with regard to discharge standards except in specific circumstances.

Very little official information as to system performance is available as yet and could be further delayed due to cancellation of IMO meetings during 2020. Singapore has carried out a short study involving the performance of eleven vessels and found that three did not meet the standard for large organisms above 50μm and one failed on the requirements for smaller organisms between 10μm and 50μm.

The sampling test was as much to gauge the performance of various testing methods and systems as to register compliance with the D2 standard. Interestingly none of the test systems performed faultlessly when compared to a detail analysis of the samples. This was particularly true in the case of larger organisms where all methods produced false negatives on some ships.

With such a small sample of vessels, it is hard to know if the results are truly representative. More to the point, some of the ballast treatment systems on the vessels were of the first generation and installed before the G8 guidelines were revised. With the days of these systems numbered by the new rules, it would be hoped that a similar survey taken in the future might show less system failures. Although older systems will not be outlawed and ships can continue to use them, it might be that they will fall foul of a more aggressive PSC regime in future.

The Singapore survey does show that the issue of regrowth – whereby organisms supposedly made non-viable by the treatment do in fact survive and the ‘kill rate’ of the system being lower than anticipated – is a real problem. Some treatment systems operate with a secondary treatment on discharge which partially addresses this problem but if a sample is taken of discharged ballast immediately after this treatment and shows that the D2 standard has not been reached, the ship may be prevented from further discharging of ballast.

If the port has no facility to take and treat the ballast on board, the ship may be asked to re-treat the ballast at the berth before further discharge is allowed, be order to move and treat outside territorial waters or if neither of those are possible to sail with the ballast still on board. The latter might affect the quantity of cargo that could be loaded.

Any ship with a ballast treatment system that is found to be problematic is bad news for the owner. When operating on the owner’s own services it is bad enough but if the ship is on time charter, such a failing would be sufficient for the ship to be declared unseaworthy. That could lead to additional costs for the owner in damages, offhire time and difficulty in obtaining future employment.

Compliance aids

Compliance aids

Several of the system makers have integrated data recording into the control of their products allowing ships to prove when and where ballast treatment was carried out. However, while some systems will also record chemical dosing and other operational parameters, none so far includes any form of analysis of treated water to determine effectiveness.

This could prove problematic for operators if PSC testing shows that the treatment standards were not met. However, a number of specialist companies have developed products which are claimed to allow testing for some organisms present in ballast water.

Although these devices do not test for every organism or bacteria mentioned in the IMO convention or US regulations, the presence of any living organisms in the range that can be tested for will be an indication that the system is not working effectively.

Early entrants to this market were systems such as the Ballast-Check 2 from California-based Turner Designs and UK-based Chelsea Technologies’ FastBallast. These are both fluorometers that detect viable algal organisms in the 10-50μm size class. The first is a small handheld device while the FastBallast can be used as a stand-alone device or incorporated into the treatment system because it is capable of rapid measurements including measurement of high flows.

In 2016, Turner Designs entered into an agreement with Norway-based Wilhelmsen Ships Services which now markets the device under its Nalfleet brand. In October 2018, Chelsea technologies was acquired by subsea technology developer Sonardyne International, although the intention is to continue operating as a separate company under its old name.

The Speedy Breedy developed by Bactest of Cambridge, UK is a portable precision respirometer which detects and monitors microbial activity. Detection of microbial activity is determined as a consequence of pressure transients relating to gaseous exchanges within a closed culture vessel of 50ml working volume, as a result of microbial respiration.

Its maker says the system can be used by non-experts wanting to carry out microbiological tests and is also relatively inexpensive, which may make it a useful piece of equipment for measuring bacteria in fresh water supplies as well as for testing ballast.

Bactest has also developed a more sophisticated version called SeaSure, which combines the methodology of Speedy Breedy with Chelsea Technologies’ phytoplankton testing and also with a chemical contamination test developed by UK-based Palintest. The result is a fully integrated ballast water testing solution, suitable to be used on board ships, gathering test results on microbial, chemical and plankton contamination.

This data is collated into a secure report called Ballast Log that is suitable for audit and encrypted transmission to interested parties, such as ballast water treatment manufacturers, shipowners and port authorities.

Using SeaSure, shipowners can track whether their ballast water has been treated in accordance with the IMO D-2 and other standards prior to discharge without having to send samples to external laboratories – test results are available to be distributed to relevant parties before the ship enters port.

Two treatment system makers – Erma First from Greece and Hyde Marine from the US – are distributors of the SeaSure system and market it alongside their treatment systems.

In 2018 Canada-based Luminultra acquired the French company Aqua-Tools which had developed a test kit that can produce a result in around 40 minutes. The method is scientifically validated to be used on board of ships and also for the type-approval of treatment systems. The compact B-QUA kit provides sufficient materials to perform 100 analyses using second-generation ATP technology that relies on the quantification of a molecule called Adenosine TriPhosphate or ATP – an energy carrier found in all living organisms.

To use the kit, a sample of the ballast water is collected and, with the equipment and chemicals provided, the tests can be carried out quite rapidly. The testing method does not require much in the way of training and is well within the capabilities of crew used to carrying out lube oil analyses or similar tests. The chemical reaction used in the test is not inhibited by salinity and works with salt concentration up to 300 PSU.

Another newcomer to testing systems is Hong Kong-based Euro-Tech, which is the parent company of the Chinese treatment system maker PACT. Its ET1302 Handheld Ballast Water Checker uses PAM fluorescence technology which measures the presence of chlorophyll as an indicator of viable phytoplankton in samples of treated water.

As things stand, the distribution arrangements between Bactest and Erma First and Hyde Marine remain the only tie-ups between system makers and testing provision. Although no treatment system maker has yet incorporated testing apparatus in its products, many believe that they may be obliged to do so in the future either because of changes in the regulations or because customers will demand it as an option.

System failure mitigation

System failure mitigation

It is inevitable that during normal operations, some ballast systems will suffer malfunctions. Some of these may be minor irritations but on occasions it is likely that the system will become incapable of treating ballast at all. Under such circumstances, a contingency plan is an essential element that should be incorporated into the ship’s Ballast Water Management Plan (required as part of the IMO convention regulations) and into the ship’s standard operating procedures.

For ships engaged on long ocean voyages, there will be at least some opportunity to carry out ballast exchange using the IMO D-1 standard. However, while there is now an international convention in force requiring ships to treat ballast to a standardised level, port states are free to set their own regulations covering discharge into territorial waters. This is not so much a failing of the convention itself but of the system and charter under which the IMO operates and where it is powerless to regulate for states as it does for ships.

In the early days of the convention’s development, it was suggested that it would make practical and economic sense for ballast water to be treated ashore rather than onboard. The argument was that there are far fewer ports in the world than ships and a system ashore would have a much longer lifespan, be easier to maintain and could be a revenue stream for ports. There is some merit to the argument although in some ports ballast has to be taken or discharged at places away from the berths so as to allow the ship to manoeuvre safely and avoid hazards such as bars or shoals in the port.

A small number of system makers and engineering companies have developed port-based systems that can be housed on barges, trucks or even temporarily placed on a ship. Some of these use type-approved systems modified so as to be housed in a standard ISO container.

One such system is the Damen InvaSave produced by Damen Green Solutions. The system has already been demonstrated in the Netherlands and in January 2019, a system was sent to the Canary Islands to be demonstrated there, treating ballast from a ship in the port. The system is type-approved and has a 300m3/h capacity.

Another emergency system was demonstrated in the Great Lakes in 2019 by two Seattle-based organisations – Global Diving & Salvage and marine engineering specialist Glostens. Known as Ballast Responder, the mobile ballast water treatment system was developed by Glosten in cooperation with Global, the US Geological Survey and the US National Park Service.

The small mobile system is designed to be easily transported to any location to treat vessels that have unmanaged or untreated ballast water in port or have grounded or are in some other emergency situation. It is a chemical dosing system using a biocide such as sodium hypochlorite. It doses the ship’s ballast tanks directly and the water is regularly tested until it reaches the D-2 standard. Before discharge, the water is neutralised using the same chemicals as most shipboard systems. Unlike the Damen InvaSave, the Ballast Responder is not a type-approved system but is not meant for permanent installation.

There is currently no pressure on ports to make emergency treatment systems available but that is something that may change in the future. The probability of it happening may increase after the results of the IMO’s experience building phase which ends in 2022 are known. If it is demonstrated that there is a high degree of non-compliant samples taken from ships that are employing best practices, that may add credence to shipowners’ claims that a high number of systems do not perform in practice as well as they should. There would then be a need for some recognition of the fact that, with the best will in the world, shipowners cannot always meet their obligations under the convention.

Market trends

Market trends

The unexpected extension granted by the IMO in 2017 will have come as a bonus to owners of older ships. Many will be happy to take advantage of the allowed extension and will use it to avoid fitting systems to ships in the final years of their working life, so a large proportion of the retrofit market has been lost.

Another slice of the retrofit market could be lost to SRA exemptions. Around the globe a large percentage of seaborne trade is conducted in areas where species transfer occurs under natural conditions and ships’ ballast is therefore not a vector for invasive species. Such exemptions would require co-operation between states and the cost of carrying out the work may be an excuse for some states to decide against.

There has been no indication of exactly when the first SRA will be declared but many

short-sea owners are banking on them in the medium term. An occasional voyage outside of an SRA could be allowed by using a port-based treatment system.

Few expect a return to the newbuild levels of the first decade of the century and current analysts’ suggestions are that a very good year would see between 2,000 and 3,000 ships joining the fleets. That in itself would be too low a level to keep all system makers in business. And since it would also include a large number of vessel types such as tugs, workboats and domestic ferries that do not have ballast systems and a similar number that might be destined for trading only in SRAs or to ports with shore-based facilities, then the remainder that do require a treatment system to be installed could account for just a thousand or so.

Consequences of system maker closures

Quite clearly this level of work would not be sufficient to ensure the survival of all those manufacturers that are currently positioning themselves for the retrofit market. There will therefore likely be many failures, mergers and consolidations that will need to take place once the initial rush is over. Even the system makers themselves accept this reality and most believe that the final market will shrink to just 10-15 active suppliers.

This could represent a major problem for the owners of new ships now being delivered, particularly if those systems chosen have a relatively high degree of sophistication. In such cases, maintenance, spare parts and service assistance will not guaranteed, necessitating the use of alternatives.

It could well be that in some cases where non-OEM spares are used the type-approval

and therefore the legitimacy of the system could be compromised. The financial collapse in 2017 of the OceanSaver system – which at the time was one of just five with USCG type-approval – shows how precarious the market is. The US type-approval alone should have ensured a reasonable level of sales but other factors relating to development and sales were clearly overwhelming.

In the event, the OceanSaver system was acquired by a fellow Norwegian marine equipment supplier IMS Group and remains available and supported. Following this development, the USCG took the unusual step of explaining what happens if a manufacturer of US type-approved equipment goes out of business.

Apparently, all equipment manufactured during the validity of the type-approval certificate remains ‘Approved’ as long as it is manufactured, installed, and operated according to the terms of the type-approval certificate. Any maintenance and repairs to this equipment must also be performed in accordance with the manuals and components specified as part of the type-approval. If the equipment fails to operate and parts from the original equipment manufacturer are no longer available, then the equipment is no longer operating under its type-approval and must be replaced.

USCG type approval certificates are issued for five years. After five years, only the manufacturer listed on the certificate can request renewal although it is possible, as in the OceanSaver case, for a company acquiring the named manufacturer to apply for a change in certification. After a period of five years, if not renewed, the certificate will be placed in an ‘Expired’ status. At this point, the product is no longer approved for production, but items manufactured prior to the expiration of the approval remain ‘Approved’ as described above.

Ensuring that any system fitted to a ship planning to trade in US waters for a reasonable number of years will remain approved will mean that the operator must ensure that OEM spare parts necessary for type-approval will continue to be available for the lifetime of the equipment. That suggests that shipowners need to make their choices based on their view of the survivability of the OEM once only newbuilding installations are available. That may not be an easy task, but it should help manufacturers who can demonstrate a fair degree of staying power.

Maker guarantees and warranties

Keeping the customers satisfied is another way to improve a manufacturer’s chance of survival. Exactly what assurances have been given to owners who have already fitted systems, we cannot know, but some companies did make public their commitment. As long ago as 2007, when Alfa Laval set out on the type-approval path for its PureBallast system, the company guaranteed buyers a refund of the system cost if type-approval was not granted.

Other makers may not have made public announcements, but some have demonstrated commitment to existing and potential new customers.

As far as absolute guarantees of system efficiency and reliability go, few system makers would be in a position to offer those. Even the type-approval process recognises that under some circumstances systems may have problems achieving the required disinfection level. Exactly what the owner is supposed to do under those circumstances is very unclear and the consequences will doubtless be discovered during the experience building phase.

At least one maker is prepared to go a little further – EcoChlor’s EcoCare guarantee might be seen as an industry first. So long as the system is operated in accordance with maker’s instruction, this ensures regulatory compliance with IMO, USCG and individual US state standards now and throughout the life of the system. In addition, the guarantee addresses system efficacy as it pertains to treating ballast water for invasive species contamination and it insures against financial penalties up to $1,000,000 relating to fines, port charges, delays and off-hire.

As part of the EcoCare guarantee, the company proactively tracks all ballasting operations with results reported via a Functional Monitoring Data Sheet and other remote monitoring tools. It also has a 24/7 international call centre for when crews and operators need support.

Finding a company that is prepared to stand full square behind its products is just part of the battle for buyers of new ships. The main problem is ensuring that the shipyard is willing and able to include the desired products within the newbuilding contract.

Many yards refuse outright to offer anything other than their supported equipment while others may be willing to accommodate the buyer at a cost. For the owner, the decision as to whether any additional charge is worth paying for a product that offers above average guarantees and warranties is one that only they can make.

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