How data and analysis help shipowners understand ballast-water best practices

ballast water treatment equipment

Officials hope to determine whether ballast-water treatment equipment is working to standards. Credit: Shutterstock

As the one-year anniversary of the Ballast Water Management Convention enforcement date approaches, anecdotal evidence reveals that much still needs to be done before the regulation can be deemed successful at stopping the spread of invasive species around the world.

This scenario was not unexpected by the framers of the convention, which is why the International Maritime Organization (IMO) built an Experience Building Phase (EBP) into the regulation, to hopefully work out the bugs.

The EBP, which is voluntary, consists of a data-gathering stage, a data-analysis stage, and a convention-review stage. This phase began when the convention entered into force on 8 September 2017 and will end with a package of priority amendments based on the data analysis entered into force, which is anticipated to occur in 2022.

The data-gathering segment of the EBP is expected to begin in early 2019, but industry participants, including shipowners, flag states, port state control, and classification societies, have been encouraged to begin preparing for it.

“The EBP will help us determine if the ballast-water convention is being implemented as expected,” David Pascoe, vice-president of maritime operations and standards for the Liberian Registry, told Fairplay. “There are a lot of systems on ships, but there’s a question of whether they’re working as intended. Now that the convention is in force, we’ll be able to gain more insight into how they’re actually working.”

Anecdotal evidence gleaned from early installers of the equipment has already been collected, and much of it is not positive. Shipowners have found it difficult to obtain parts for systems that break down or have faulty sensors. Others have problems receiving resupplies of the chemicals used for disinfecting the ballast water.

“I think most of the systems anticipate a six-month resupply, but if for some reason equipment is used more than anticipated, a shipowner may need to be resupplied in three months, so there’s a question of whether there’s a network in place that has the flexibility to respond to those needs,” Jeanne Grasso, a partner and ballast-water regulation specialist at the law firm Blank Rome, told Fairplay.

Individual mandates

At the 72nd meeting of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee, held in London on 9–13 April, several templates for gathering data were approved, depending on which party is doing the collecting.

Shipowners and flag states, for example, will be focusing much of their attention on the ballast-water equipment and how it operates, including information on the number of accidents and defects involving the equipment, and issues associated with the storage and handling of chemicals.

Port states, which are responsible for enforcing the regulation, will be sampling effluent ballast water to analyse whether the equipment is filtering and cleaning the water to the proper standards. Bryan Wood-Thomas, vice-president of environmental policy at the World Shipping Council, which represents container fleet operators, believes this part of the data collection and analysis could turn out to be the most contentious for shipowners and equipment vendors.

“Because of the cost of purchasing, installing, and operating the equipment, the stakes are high if it turns out that equipment that has been officially certified and is operating properly does not produce effluent that meets the regulatory standard,” Wood-Thomas told Fairplay.

“Shipowners don’t want to hear that. They just want to know that they have an approved system on their ship and want to keep it operating – a completely understandable viewpoint. I would say the responsibility [for improvements] in that case will fall mostly on the manufacturers.”

Classification societies will play a significant role in the data collection and analysis process as well, particularly in cases where improvements can be made to equipment installations based on the data received.

Broader understanding

By working with shipowners and operators as early as possible following equipment retrofits, “class societies can fast-track improvements to the installations of [ballast-water systems] to better support their operational reliability”, noted William Burroughs, senior principal engineer at US-based class society ABS.

Burroughs pointed out that, to date, the certification process for ballast-water systems has often been conducted using one or two land-based testing set-ups and usually one shipboard installation. However, most real-life installations will not resemble either of those testing schemes, he said.

“The ultimate purpose of the EBP is to provide vendors and class with a more statistically valid review of ballast-water management system technologies and installation locations [and] configurations that can reveal how best to conduct shipboard ballast-water management for the remaining retrofits,” Burroughs told Fairplay. “One of the most important things we can learn from the EBP will be which installation configurations work and which ones do not.”

Burroughs said the data-gathering phase could reveal that certain ballast-water systems may be found to have “pushed the limits of a particular technology”. However, he added, “If these installation configurations can be discovered fast enough with properly planned feedback, class societies can change the installation guidelines to prevent similar in-service failures.”

The five-year-long EBP could yield extremely valuable results for owners and operators of about 50,000 large commercial vessels required to have a ballast-water management system on board. Those worried that providing the voluntary feedback will be merely an administrative burden should recognise that it will be worth the trouble, Pascoe noted.

“We hope they will acknowledge that as large an expense that they had to make, anything that is helpful in identifying problems that may need to be rectified will be good thing,” he said.

“If we don’t receive and analyse this information and the problems continue, it will be difficult to determine if it’s a problem that is specific to the equipment, crew training, or a regulatory gap.”

Contact John Gallagher

The next installment of John Gallagher’s series will be published in September. Read more exclusive reporting from Fairplay on the Ballast Water Management Convention and the cost of compliance to owners here.