Ballast Water Treatment

Getting a grip on onboard testing

Paul Gunton
Paul Gunton

01 March 2019

Getting a grip on onboard testing

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 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.

Last year, 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.