US rejects alternative ballast water equipment testing method

Ballast water treatment system on board ship. Credit: Techcross
Ballast water treatment system on board ship. Credit: Techcross

Appeals from four ballast water cleaning manufacturers to use an alternative method for testing their ultraviolet (UV) light-based equipment have been denied by the US Coast Guard (USCG).

The USCG’s Marine Safety Center (MSC) in December 2015 rejected requests from Sweden’s Alfa Laval, Denmark’s DESMI Ocean Guard, Canada’s Trojan Marinex, and US-based Hyde Marine, which wanted their equipment tested to a standard that allows invasive species in ballast water to remain alive, but incapable of reproducing – a standard approved by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) – versus killing them outright, which is what is required by US standards.

On 12 July, Linda Fagan, the USCG’s deputy commandant for operations, policy, and capabilities, turned down the manufacturers’ appeal against the MSC’s decision, in which the manufacturers had asked the agency to rule that the “most probable number” (MPN) testing method, which evaluates the likelihood of organism reproduction, be regarded as equivalent to US testing standards.

In addition to concluding that the MSC lacked authority to approve a testing alternative, Fagan found that the four ballast water companies were not able to show that their systems met the USCG’s requirements for approving alternative testing.

“MPN-based methods continue to be a highly-debated practice with regard to ballast water systems,” Fagan’s office said. “With regards to evaluating ballast water that has thousands of different kinds of species, MPN-based methods have not been validated to date for this purpose.”

The ballast water systems manufactured by the four companies use UV radiation to screen for potential invasive species. Denying their appeal is not a denial of UV systems or of the MPN testing method, the agency said, “but a denial of the proposed alternative testing method by four UV system manufacturers”, pointing out there are several UV-based ballast systems currently going through type-approval testing under the US-required test procedures.

In a 13 July statement, DESMI Ocean Guard CEO Rasmus Folso said that although his company disagreed with Fagan’s decision, “we of course respect the authority of the USCG”.

“We will continue to work on having the MPN method accepted in the United States as it is everywhere else in the world, but in the meantime we must, for the sake of our customers, ensure USCG-type approval” of DESMI’s ballast water equipment with additional testing, he said.

Alfa Laval said that it “remains on track” to submit in the coming weeks a USCG-type approval application for its ballast water system that conforms with US standards.

The IMO’s Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention – to which the United States is not yet a signatory – was adopted in 2004 to prevent harmful aquatic organisms that get trapped in a ship’s ballast water from spreading from one region to another.

As of 7 July, 51 countries representing 34.87% of the 35% of world merchant shipping tonnage needed to ratify the convention had signed on. Roughly 40,000 ships will be required to install a ballast water treatment system (BWTS) under the convention. While there are 50 IMO-approved BWTSs on the market, no equipment has yet met the stricter US standards.

However, with the convention’s ratification looming, shipowners worry that the longer the United States takes to approve a system certified for cleaning ballast in US waters, the chances increase that owners could end up investing millions of dollars on equipment that will not meet US certification.

Paul Thomas, who oversees US ballast water certification as the USCG’s assistant commandant for prevention policy, has acknowledged that concern, but insists that when his agency does begin type-approving systems they will be able to be used anywhere in the world.

Coastguard commandant Paul Zukunft hinted in February that USCG-approval of ballast water systems could come in 2016. Those equipment manufacturers that get early USCG approval of their systems could gain a significant market edge over their competitors.