Seafarers Speak Out on Oily Water Separators

oily water separator

Published Jun 4, 2015 4:05 PM by Wendy Laursen

Preliminary results from a six-month study on the effectiveness of oily water separators indicate seafarers have some serious complaints about an onboard technology that can land them in jail.

The discharge of oily water from a ship is a serious criminal offence, yet seafarers find the equipment designed to prevent such discharges challenging. In a few rare cases, they resort to magic pipes to bypass the oily water separator itself or to fraudulent paperwork to bypass the regulations that govern it.

A new study is underway to see what can be done to improve shipboard oily waste management. MAX1 Studies is a six-month study commissioned by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and managed by the maritime consultancy firm Martin & Ottaway. The study looks at all shipboard waste stream management, but explores machinery space waste streams and oily water separators in particular depth as a case study.

Some of the seafarer comments obtained in the study point to the human element:

“People are scared of the possibility of fines/jail time for violating accidentally. A lot of times, the oily water separator is not run out of fear. Teach everyone how to properly use and care for one,” said one survey respondent.

“Make them simpler and documentation easier, especially in the oil record book. Crews are in absolute panic for even documentary mistakes as they believe they will be viewed as criminals even if the mistake is genuine or minor,” says another.

“Too many companies use the oil record book as a threat to mariners. Teaching methods to make entries streamlined and simple is more effective than telling your employees that they’ll go to jail for making a mathematical error.”

Some seafarers taking the survey pointed to equipment design failings:

“In older ships, more than 10 years old, leakages do tend to increase, and are at times unavoidable. Hence sludge and waste oil/bilge water tanks with adequate capacity should be provided for collection to discourage illegal disposal by the ship’s crew.”

“Most separators do not function properly with the volume of sludge needed to be processed on the vessels I have been on.”

“Often the as-fitted piping arrangements are not 100 percent in accordance with manufacturers’ drawings.”

“Onboard storage and holding capacities are too often inadequate, but the worst problem is the significant lack of economical shore-based reception facilities for ALL types of waste.”

Rik van Hemmen President and Senior Partner at Martin & Ottaway, says environmental functions on board ships continue to expand. Meanwhile, evidence based on a continual stream of noted violations indicates that some operators continue to have problems with machinery space waste stream management. The number of regulations and procedures is increasing, and this paperwork has resulted in resentment and loss of focus by all stakeholders, he says.  

Resolution of these problems will require a combination of improvements in technology, operational practices, training and human factors considerations, says van Hemmen. This study endeavors to bring together all stakeholders in order to develop best practices on all of these fronts.

A conference with all interested parties will be held on June 24, 2015 in North Carolina.  The main objective of the conference will be to engage stakeholders in discussions and deliberations regarding the path forward for machinery space waste stream management.

The conference agenda is available here. Register here.