Shipowners must study vessel’s environment to avoid problematic BWTS operation

Shipowners must study vessel’s environment to avoid problematic BWTS operation
Coldharbour Marine inert gas generator lifted on deck

Shipowners should focus on studying a vessel’s operating requirements and conditions specific to the environment of that vessel to avoid operational issues with ballast water treatment systems (BWTS) says Panos Smyroglou, chief commercial officer, Coldharbour Marine.

Owners and operators face a myriad of challenges when it comes to installing and operating new technologies for regulatory compliance. One of these technologies is BWTS that are required by the IMO to comply with the Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention. Reports of malfunctioning BWTS are not uncommon with the majority of issues relating to software, hardware, and incorrect operation of systems by crew. ABS reported last year that 57 per cent of BWTS installed on vessels were in operation; the rest were considered problematic. The survey by ABS revealed that 14 per cent were deemed completely inoperable. Ireland headquartered Ardmore Shipping also announced last year that it was replacing its current BWTS due to problems the company encountered with their operation.

The problem stems from the fact that many shipowners and operators rely on certificates from the IMO or USCG to match a BWTS to their vessel. “Matching a system to a vessel on paper is relatively straightforward,” Smyroglou tells VPO Global, “but it is not enough.” He urges shipping companies to study the whole environment in which the vessel operates to understand how the operation of one BWTS to the next may differ.

Another problem Smyroglou explained to us is that there is a tendency to assume a crew member is highly skilled in operating all types of BWTS just because they have experience in operating a specific type of system before. This train of thought is supported by BWTS manufacturer Optimarin, whose CEO Tore Andersen told journalists in a press briefing last year that owners “don’t spend five euros on training their crew. It seems like the training of the crew should come into it automatically, but it doesn’t seem like that.”

Furthermore, crew changeovers can result in important information regarding a system’s operation not being passed on. After Port State Control (PSC) has checked the system is type approved they will ask to see it in operation to prove its compliance. Andersen says this is why crew must know exactly how to operate the system at any given time. “If you can’t prove that the system is working by your own people, you are out of business. This is much more important than the owner realises.”

In light of these problems, Coldharbour has designed its BWTS to minimise required crew training and operational issues. The system consists of three main components, an inert gas generator, a marine gas compressor, and a gas conditioning unit. According to Smyroglou, “All of these pieces of machinery are very well known to the crew, especially tanker operators, so the level of support needed is very little.” He says that while the expertise required by crew is unlikely to bring any new challenges, it is still important for shipping companies to ensure their crews have support and training when needed to ensure they can confidently deal with BWTS themselves.

Panos Smyroglou, chief commercial officer, Coldharbour Marine

Forward thinking

Smyroglou says that forward thinking and proper deployment of a project is a must to ensure the result the shipowner wants. This is not just applicable to BWTS but any technology, specifically scrubbers which Smyroglou points to as the 2020 sulphur cap nears. “Owners really need to sit down and study these systems and try to select the best system for the operating conditions for the vessel type and size,” he advises.

Optimarin’s Andersen supports this and says that owners need to understand the system, “Read the manual and get to know the system now. Do the service as recommended by the system operator.” He also advises shipowners to let the crew on-board know why the system is there in the first place. “There are so many IMO rules and most BWTS with UV filters have different settings for IMO and USCG compliance and if the crew doesn’t know how and when you use them then you make them failures. It’s easy but you have to understand it,” he warns.

ABS’ most recent study, which indicates operational issues with BWTS are decreasing, finds that allowing crew to understand the system design and its limitations is vital to helping them determine the suitability of the technology for a vessel’s planned operational routes.

A renewed focus

The inevitable focus on the IMO’s 2020 global sulphur cap and the installation of scrubbers has previously taken some attention away from ballast water management. According to Smyroglou, major players realised there was a financial benefit if they focused on IMO 2020, but it is not quite the same with the BWM Convention as there is no money to be earnt directly.

However, in the latter part of 2018, the focus shifted back to ballast water management according to Smyroglou. Richard Beards, managing director, Gibdock, said that in 2018, the yard undertook significant ballast water work and found there were a huge number of conversations around BWTS retrofits, more so than scrubbers at this point. He said that while some of these conversations relate to turn-key projects, most are “more about preparations on-board before installation,” indicating a renewed focus on BWTS, which is needed to avoid future operational issues.

Looking forward, Smyroglou believes that there will be more BWTS designed to specific types and sizes of vessels and there will be a greater focus on installing systems that are fit-for-purpose. In his eyes there will be some BWTS that have to be excluded from certain types and sizes of vessels to reduce operational issues. The result will be owners operating vessels with the right systems and vessels generating the profitability they were designed to in the first place.