US type-approved BWMS could be available by November

New ballast water systems target invasive species dumped into nonindigenous waters. Credit: Dietmar Hasenpusch
New ballast water systems target invasive species dumped into nonindigenous waters. Credit: Dietmar Hasenpusch

Foreign shipowners looking to invest in a ballast water management system (BWMS) that’s certified for vessels trading in the US may have options available by as early as November.

The US Coast Guard (USCG), which is overseeing the US-type approval process, confirmed to IHS IHS Markit on 14 September that the goal of the agency’s Marine Safety Center (MSC), which is accepting the applications, is to “review and reply to each submittal within 30 days of receipt.”

USCG assistant commandant for prevention policy Paul Thomas wrote in a 13 September blog post that he expects to receive applications for Coast Guard type-approval “in the next few weeks”. That would mean having one or more systems on track for type-approval in November.

The Coast Guard cautioned, however, that the time frame for certification “will depend on the quality and complexity” of the applications.

“Where additional information is required, the time from initial receipt until final approval will take longer than 30 days,” the agency said in a statement. “Since these will be among the first ballast water type approval submittals, it is difficult to predict the overall review time, but the MSC will treat them as their highest priority.”

Three ballast water equipment manufacturers announced in recent months that required USCG testing procedures had been completed for their treatment systems and that they would be submitting applications for final US type-approval: Alfa Laval, based in Sweden, and OceanSaver and Optimarin, both based in Norway.

With the announcement last week by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that the ballast water convention had been ratified and that an 8 September 2017 enforcement date was now set, manufacturers that receive type-approval earliest can establish market position for equipment that will sell for an estimated USD1 to 5 million.

Optimarin said it sees a potential market of 25,000 ships worldwide for its OBS system, and that it was looking to take “a very significant share” of the retrofit market. Alfa Laval claims that its PureBallast system “provides reliable biological disinfection at full flow, whether by IMO or US Coast Guard standards.” OceanSaver maintains that its Mark II system configures particularly well for medium to large crude, product, and chemical tankers, as well as for gas carriers and bulkers.

A vessel’s ballast water equipment requirements vary widely depending on the type and size of the ship, which is why there are at least 16 other manufacturers testing systems with the goal of applying for US type-approval. Many more have already been approved by the IMO that could eventually qualify as well.

But shipowners that want to trade in the US are in a quandary: with the convention enforcement date just a year off, they risk investing in an IMO-approved system that may never reach certification in the US.

“The fixing of a definite implementation date, after so many years of delay, will at least give shipowners some of the certainty needed to make important decisions about whether to refit the new mandatory treatment equipment or otherwise to start sending ships for early recycling,” said Esben Poulsson, chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), which represents shipowners and operators on regulatory issues.

“Unfortunately”, Poulsson added, “the entry into force of the new IMO regime will not resolve the extreme difficulties that still exist in the United States.”