Ballast Water Systems Near U.S. Type Approval

File image courtesy Marine Vectors

By MarEx 2016-07-08 17:45:15

As the ratification of IMO ballast water management regulations inches ever closer, dozens of equipment manufacturers are in various stages of applying for type approval from the U.S. Coast Guard for their systems. The United States has outlined a more stringent set of testing guidelines than those promulgated by IMO, meaning that owners of vessels transiting U.S. waters will eventually need systems meeting the domestic standard. 

Manufacturer Optimarin announced Thursday that it has completed all required testing, including land-based, shipboard and lab tests. No system has yet gained formal USCG type approval, but the firm claims to be the first provider of a UV-based technology fully tested and evaluated to the agency’s standards, and it expects official recognition soon. “The conclusion of the USCG approval testing marks an important evolutionary step for our business,” said CEO Tore Andersen. “Our customers can now be assured that our system meets the most stringent regulatory standards in the world, giving them peace of mind for all global fleet operations now, and into the future."

Competitor Alfa Laval has also announced successful completion of Coast Guard-specified testing, and it expects to submit a final application soon. 

The stakes are high for manufacturers, as the number of vessels affected by the regulation is expected to be in the range of 30,000 to 50,000 worldwide within five years – and with each system costing millions, the total market size could be in the range of $15 billion. The systems are expected to last the life of the vessel, so owners are moving carefully to ensure that the option they purchase is compliant in all the markets in which their ships could operate. 

Canadian firm Trojan Technologies was among the first to initiate an application for USCG type approval; Trojan is a specialist in UV treatment, with decades of shoreside installation experience. The firm recently told Water Canada that it would encourage the U.S. Coast Guard to change its stringent testing methodology and to allow the evaluation of treated species' reproductive viability – rather than the rate of mortality following treatment – as a means of satisfying the standard for small organisms. The Canadian government concurs with Marinex, and has encouraged the USCG to "maximize compatibility between the implementation of U.S. requirements and the Convention."

So far the Coast Guard has resisted this call, breaking with the IMO's testing methodology and making it harder for some firms to achieve certification. In December, Captain J.W. Mauger of the agency's Marine Safety Center informed Trojan Marinex and three other manufacturers that "the design dosage of UV-irradiation in your system causes damage which prevents cell replication, but does not otherwise kill the target organisms during treatment . . . We are aware of other ballast water treatment systems, including one which uses UV-irradiation, which are undergoing evaluation using the required tests [for mortality]. As such, we find that the required tests [based on mortality rates] are applicable." 

Recent research by John Cullen, a professor in the Department of Oceanography at Dalhousie University, suggests that testing of reproductive viability may be a better way to evaluate a system's capability. “When we began our research, the MPN method for counting viable cells in natural phytoplankton communities had a bad reputation, primarily because it was thought that many, if not most species of phytoplankton could not be cultured and thus would not be counted using the MPN method,” he told Water Canada. “But after we carefully reviewed the scientific literature on MPN over the past 60-plus years, we realized that the method was much less prone to error than previously thought.”