Shipowners advised to weigh up US-approved BWMS

Shipowners must consider their vessels' specific ballast water needs before investing
Shipowners must consider their vessels' specific ballast water needs before investing

With three US type-approved ballast water systems now available, shipowners should look closely into their details before making any investment, according to a leading shipping lawyer.

The US Coast Guard (USCG) on 23 December 2016 approved ballast water management systems (BMWS) from equipment manufacturers Alfa Laval of Sweden and OceanSaver of Norway.

The approvals of Alfa Laval’s PureBallast 3 system and OceanSaver’s BWTS MKII system follow the USCG’s type-approval on 2 December of the Optimarin Ballast System, manufactured by Norway’s Optimarin.

Having three USCG-type approved ballast water systems on the market after years of testing the equipment represents a “game changer” for bulker, tanker, and container ship operators trading in the United States, said Jeanne Grasso, a partner at the law firm Blank Rome in Washington, DC.

However, Grasso warns that equipment already US-certified or approved in the future might not suit every vessel or fleet.

“What’s going to be critical is that [shipowners] figure out if these systems are appropriate,” Grasso told IHS IHS Markit. “Do they have the correct pump-through capacity? Do they have the right amount of power? Do they fit the ship? And is there adequate time to order the equipment before the vessel’s next drydocking?”

The goal of ballast water regulations is to prevent invasive species moving between regions in the ballast water of ships trading internationally.

The Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention enters into force on 8 September. But most shipowners operating under flag states that are parties to the convention will have until the second half of 2020, depending on their next vessel survey, to install a system approved under IMO guidelines.

BWMS can cost from USD500,000 to more than USD1 million.

The United States – which is not a party to the BWM Convention – requires ships trading in US waters to install a BWMS that has undergone more rigorous testing standards.

Optimarin, Alfa Laval, and OceanSaver are the only manufacturers so far with equipment that has met those standards. The agency has indicated it has 20 BWMS in some stage of testing.

“It is the world’s most stringent test regime, with extensive trials and detailed reviews of the system and supporting documentation,” OceanSaver vice-president of technology Per Aarnaes commented in a statement after receiving US-type approval. “That our system has passed it all is very reassuring for us and our customers. The USCG certificate means a lot to us.”

OceanSaver’s equipment uses electro-chlorination, or electrodialysis, to treat ballast water in tanks with flow rates that range from 200 to 7,200 m3/h.

Alfa Laval’s system, like Optimarin’s, uses ultraviolet (UV) light to treat ballast water. The USCG noted that its Alfa Laval approval covers only those systems that can treat ballast water flow rates of 150–3,000 m3/h, based on Alfa Laval’s 300 and 1,000 m3/h UV reactor sizes.

Type approval for Alfa Laval systems based on 170 and 600 m3/h UV reactors are currently under review by the Marine Safety Center, according to the USCG.

Grasso said having two UV-based systems type approved in the United States is significant given that the industry has been sceptical that UV equipment could be cost-effectively made strong enough to kill invasive organisms.

“It means that the UV systems that have been US type-approved are probably bigger or need more power than IMO-approved UV systems,” she said.