Ballast Water Treatment Market on Hold

ship deballasting

By Wendy Laursen 2015-02-11 19:55:52

A speech last week by Christopher Koch, President and CEO of the World Shipping Council (WSC), resurrected a debate about the IMO Ballast Water Management Convention that many thought, and hoped, had been settled: Should flag states proceed towards ratification or not?

Speaking at an industry conference, Koch said that governments yet to ratify the convention should “pause” before doing so. “There appears to be agreement that the IMO type approval guidelines have shortcomings that must be addressed. How and when those shortcomings will be addressed is not certain. Failure to address these shortcomings before the IMO convention is ratified or before U.S. type approved technology is available would place vessel owners in an untenable situation where they would be obliged to procure and install technology that may not reliably meet the convention requirements and that may not be acceptable in the U.S.

“These shortcomings should be causing thoughtful governments that have not yet ratified the convention to pause before ratifying because what nation wants to be the one that causes the convention to come into force before these fundamental issues have been resolved? What nation wants to trigger a requirement on the industry to invest tens of billions of dollars in treatment technology if that investment does not offer the vessels certainty that they can trade anywhere in global commerce with regulatory confidence?”

Once the convention enters into force, there will be a requirement to install technology over a challenging time frame that will test vessel operators, vendors and shipyards and could affect the cost of the equipment, especially if the number of vendors with U.S. type approved systems is limited, he says.

U.S. vs. IMO

The U.S. has established more rigorous type approval requirements than the current IMO convention G8 Guidelines for technology type approval, and U.S. regulations will not recognize IMO type approved treatment systems.

The availability of U.S. type approved systems would give vessel operators the ability to
install that technology, instead of technology that has only been type approved under the IMO regime, says Koch, to obtain greater confidence that their investment will meet the convention’s requirements, as well as U.S. requirements, wherever the ship may operate.

“Once there is U.S. Coast Guard type approved technology, nations that have not yet ratified the convention would know that their ratification would not require vessels to make uncertain investments – because, even if the IMO does not remedy the problems that exist today with the current IMO type approval guidelines, a vessel would at least have the option of purchasing and installing technology that had been approved under the more rigorous U.S. type approval standards. That would provide more confidence in the capital investment decisions that shipowners will need to make than the promise of the IMO to address the problem in the future,” he says.

“Chris Koch is absolutely right,” says Arthur Bowring, Managing Director of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association. “We still don’t have any U.S. Coast Guard approved systems, nor do we have the revised IMO G8 testing guidelines. What we do have is an IMO working group that is looking at industry’s concerns, and other concerns that have since been raised, over the G8 guidelines, but we don’t yet have a firm commitment to grandfather older fitted systems if the G8 guidelines are revised.  So, owners fitting systems now could well have to replace them to meet the U.S. Coast Guard approval standards or to meet the revised G8 guidelines if the grandfathering clause is not accepted.

“That being said, by IMO setting up the working group, we would feel that governments understand that they have a moral obligation to properly address industry concerns and put the correct procedures in place, at least for the IMO standards,” says Bowring.

Jad Mouawad, a specialist consultant in ballast water treatment systems at Mouawad Consulting, says Koch’s remarks indicate that WSC is calling for exactly the opposite of what was promised and committed to at MEPC 67 in 2014. The WSC, together with a large number of industry representatives, assured the IMO that their request for revisions of the G8 Guidelines had nothing to do with their wish to postpone the implementation of the convention, but rather to increase the robustness of the type approval regime, says Mouawad.

That MEPC meeting agreed to open Guidelines G8 for type approval on the condition that such a move will not affect the rate of ratification of the convention by member states. 

Koch’s remarks are disappointing, says Mouawad. “This is surely not in line with their sister organizations like the ICS and BIMCO who actually kept what they committed to at MEPC 67 and went out and supported continued ratification of the convention since MEPC committed to review the G8 Guidelines.

“For the sake of clarity, the fact that MEPC decided to review the G8 Guidelines has nothing to do with the robustness of the current guidelines. It is merely an implementation of the experiences from the application of the current guidelines for a seven years period. Such revisions will come every 5-10 years, which is typical for any type approval guidelines.”

However, the IMO ballast water treatment system type approval is not like other equipment type approvals, and not like those for U.S. type approval, says Howard Fireman, Senior Vice President, Asset Performance Management, at ABS. A key issue is that ships are going to be held accountable for the operational performance of the equipment. For other shipboard type approved equipment (such as oily water separators or sewage plants), type approval means that the vessel is in compliance. 

“The U.S. type approval testing is prescriptive. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) for U.S. regulations and the ETV protocol specifically describe how tests are required to be conducted. For the Ballast Water Management Convention, IMO has only developed guidelines which are open to how each flag administration wants type approval to proceed,” he says.

Most systems with IMO convention type approval have applied for U.S. Coast Guard Alternate Management System (AMS) acceptance. “Note the difference in terms,” says Fireman. “AMS are not “approved” but “accepted”. For U. S. Coast Guard type approval, testing is underway, but some aspects of the testing can only occur between March and August due to the need for sufficient organisms in the water for testing. The process could take between 18 months and two years for a system and is confidential. Wärtsilä is the only vendor that announced that their land-based testing was completed by December 2014 for the Aquarius EC ballast water management system.”

Waiting for Godot

So, says Fireman, the market is very much on hold until U.S. Coast Guard type approval is awarded. “The choice to purchase a U.S. Coast Guard accepted AMS is a business decision. For some shipowners wanting to get experience with a system, purchasing an AMS may be a good decision, because prices are low. The system would need to be carefully evaluated, because some systems may be more easily modified for U.S. Coast Guard compliance,” he says. “To reiterate, purchasing a system at this time is a business decision with many factors to consider.”

In Koch’s view: “This has been – and continues to be – an unreasonable and troubling dilemma facing the industry.” – MarEx

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.