Lack of due diligence will be an expensive mistake, warns Coldharbour Marine’s CEO

Lack of due diligence will be an expensive mistake, warns Coldharbour Marine’s CEO
Coldharbour Marine Chief Executive, Andrew Marshall

Shipowners and operators require a greater understanding of ballast water treatment systems (BWTS) and their applications in real-life situations, says Coldharbour Marine Chief Executive, Andrew Marshall.

According to the BWTS expert, there is a high risk of operational failures and long-term reputational damage for those that take a low-cost, minimum compliance approach to meet the requirements of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (the BWM Convention, adopted on 13 February 2004 and entered into force on 8 September 2017).

In order to comply with the requirements of the BWM Convention, shipowners and operators must install a BWTS to kill or render inactive microorganisms that are picked up with ships’ ballast. Ultraviolet, chemical, or eletrochlorination are the most common types of BWTS that prevent live or fertile organisms being deposited in non-native environments where they may upset the natural balance of the ecosystem.

Each BWTS will have its pros and cons, and its efficacy will depend on the type of ship it is applied to and its operational profile and environment. Marshall warns this is where shipowners and operators need to take care as lack of due diligence could be an expensive mistake. He believes that some owners and operators choose BWTS with the lowest cost, or agree on systems as part of a standard shipyard specification, without first acknowledging and identifying the risks of selecting a treatment system that is not suitable for the ship chosen and its operational profile.

“The correct choice of system requires a clear understanding of complex scientific and operational issues. As the US Coast Guard said in December, plug-and-play is not a realistic option. I fear that many ship operators have not understood the huge risks of choosing a treatment system that is simply not fit for purpose, he says.”

The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) next Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) will take place in 2018. While the Convention entered into force last September, there has been discussion around implementing a two-year delay on the Convention to allow shipowners and operators further time to choose and implement suitable treatment technologies. Delegates will discuss during MEPC 72 in April, whether this delay will go ahead. Marshall thinks it likely that it will, a move which he describes as regrettable as there will be another two further years of unregulated species transfer via ships’ ballast tanks. However, Marshall also acknowledges that the delay does also give shipowners and operators another 24 months to find BWTS that are right for their operations. In Marshall’s eyes, this delay will at least give shipping companies the time for the due diligence required, which many have only just begun to come to terms with.

A key problem for shipowners and operators is that there are not many USCG type approved BWTS on the market today. Many have IMO type approval, but those without US approval are not fit for international waters. The process for obtaining USCG type approval is stringent and takes time, and there are only six USCG approved BWTS to date. As Marshall warns, just because a system has achieved USCG status, does not automatically mean it is fit for purpose for any operational environment. A whole range of variables must be considered. For instance, ultra violet systems can struggle in highly turbid waters, while electrochlorination systems may be less effective in low temperature or low salinity waters, explains Marshall. Furthermore, the BWTS may require additional power than that provided by the ship.

The practical implications of meeting the requirements of the BWM Convention are starting to be addressed by the industry. While many are working to understand these issues, according to Marshall many are simply relying on type approval certificates and testing data that have come from testing BWTS in very different conditions to which the systems will operate in daily. There has been heavy debate in recent years as to the integrity of testing procedures on BWTS, as some deem there to be a lack of standardisation and transparency when it comes to testing and approving these systems.

These concerns were highlighted in December 2017 when the Maritime Environmental Resource Centre (MERC), one of the approved laboratories for testing BWTS for IMO type approval and one of the first Independent Laboratories appointed by the USCG, withdrew from type approval testing. According to MERC, after several years of efforts to ensure scientifically sound, predictive, consistent, and transparent BWTS certification testing, it become clear that the lack of an appropriate standardised approach and sufficient oversight in the implementation of the BWM Convention is undermining the goal of policies to prevent the spread of invasive species. University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) Chesapeake Biological Laboratory Director Dr. Thomas Miller, said at the time, “Therefore, under the current regulations, which do not significantly reduce the threat of some invasive species, MERC can no longer conduct BWMS certification testing.”

Marshall says that on top of this, the maintenance of BWTS is only just beginning to be understood.  “Even when a system is fit for purpose on day one, will it still be working effectively and able to pass Port State Control (PSC) tests in two years’ time? For example, a 40-micron filter, which is integral to the effective operation of many systems may be 100% effective when it’s new, but will it work as well when it has filtered thousands of tonnes of mucky ballast water?”

As with any equipment, wear and tear is going to happen and after some time it may be that the filters enable larger organisms to get through, severely reducing the efficacy of the BWTS. This could leave shipowners and operators in a state of non-compliance, inadvertently. Not only will this leave the owner or operator with a poor record when it comes to PSC, and likely lead to fines, but according to Marshall, ships that are found to fail PSC tests could have to de-ballast, re-ballast, and return to the discharge port, leading to additional fuel and more off-hire.

This of course has implications for the reputation of the shipowner or operator. As Marshall points out, “Which charterer would risk hiring a ship with a known history of delays, or an operator with a list of PSC issues?”

“You can be certain that the end-users of shipping services will be conducting their own due diligence to the very highest standards” confirms Marshall.