As of 1 January 2016 vessels are no longer able to discharge
ballast in US waters unless their ballast water treatment (BWT)
systems are compliant with stringent demands from the USCG
(US Coast Guard). Experts believe that now, more than ever, it is
imperative that shipowners make the right BWT choice.
“There’s so much confusion surrounding the issue of ballast
water treatment now,” opines Optimarin CEO Tore Andersen,
the head of a firm that brought the first ever commercial BWT
system to market back in 2000. “The IMO Ballast Water
Management (BWM) convention is close to ratification, but yet
to be rubber-stamped, and meanwhile the USCG has taken the
bold move to act unilaterally to protect the environment with its
“So let’s cut through that uncertainty and state a fact: all
shipowners that discharge ballast must get a BWT system,
preferably an environmentally friendly one, if they want their
ships to operate in the future. And, if they want to sail in US
waters, then they must act now.”
TWO STANDARDS, ONE ANSWER
The fact that there are effectively two sets of regulations
regarding BWT standards has muddied the waters for
shipowners, making it difficult to find the solution they need.
Classification societies are well aware of this, but aren’t as
keen to go on record to explain the situation. An environmental
solutions expert at one of the world’s leading classification
bureaus agreed to speak, but only on the condition of anonymity.
“Ballast water gets by far the most questions of any issue we
deal with,” they note with a smile,“and it’s easy to understand
why. There’s a major difference between USCG and IMO
regulations. Basically this centres on standards.
“USCG judges (BWT) systems on the basis of ‘living/dead’
organisms in ballast water, whereas IMO views them in terms of
‘viable/unviable’. In other words, for USCG approval systems
have to kill the organisms, while for IMO they don’t, but must
ensure they don’t reproduce.
“USCG tests this using the FDA/CMFDA method, which uses
a dye to identify living organisms, while the IMO does not list
one specific methodology. The MPN (Most Probable Number)
test is the norm here, having been used for almost 40 years, but
procedures vary from laboratory to laboratory.This is an issue
for USCG — it wants a simple, reliable and reproducible testing
method. Until this is established, and there are hurdles in doing
so, both with validation and law making, FDA/CMFDA will remain
the USCG standard.”
Some may now be feeling lost in a sea of abbreviations. So, here’s
the lowdown — USCG regulations are much more exacting.
This means fewer systems will make the grade.
For the time being USCG is temporarily accepting the use of
Alternate Management System (AMS), whereby vessels with
solutions that have already been approved by another flag state
can discharge ballast in US waters. However, USCG-approved
AMS systems will only be accepted for a period of five years
after the vessel’s compliance date, and, if they haven’t met the
USCG’s own stringent standards by that point, will have to be
changed. That burden of potential cost and uncertainty is not
one today’s shipowners, operating in a climate of squeezed
margins and aggressive competition, may be willing to accept.
They need to be sure.
Unfortunately, the systems that many industry observers seem to prefer for their simplicity, ease of operation and environment credentials (utilizing no chemicals) are struggling with USCG approval. “UV systems are easy to operate, don’t require chemical storage and are a good option for the industry,” opines the classification specialist.“But caution is needed.”
They explain that the majority have been made with the ‘viable’ standard in mind and therefore lack the power — “and you might require a lot more power” — to tackle the tougher FDA/CFMDA test.
“That’s where Optimarin has been smart,” they state. “They’re focusing on USCG current requirements and approval. And the first UV system to get this will have a real market advantage.”
THE POWER TO DELIVER
BWT specialist Optimarin — which has sold over 350 of its systems to shipowners across the world, with more than 270 installed — is coming to the end of a US$3 million USCG approval programme.
Its technology is the first UV system to meet the USCG marine water requirements, successfully satisfying the FDA/CFMDA criteria. Further tests of remaining water salinities are scheduled for spring 2016, after which point approval is expected later in the year.
“Passing the initial tests puts us in pole position in the market for final approval and is a great endorsement of our system’s effectiveness,” comments Andersen. “Each of our system lamps has a 35kw capacity. This power instantly kills any potentially harmful invasive organisms and that’s exactly what USCG wants to see. We’re delighted to be leading the way in our segment — something that we put down to decades of work, sector expertise and investment.”
With 2016 now upon us, both Andersen and the regulation expert offer similar, sage advice to shipowners.
Andersen notes: “Install a system that is reliable, simple to maintain, easy to install (make sure any supplier can show a history of retrofit success) and proven within the marketplace. This is still a relatively young sector, so it pays to go with a name you can trust.”
His classification peer, meanwhile, has regulations front of mind: “It’s simple,” they say. “The industry has to comply, so choose a system that will be compliant.”
Optimarin installed the world’s first commercial system on the cruise ship Princess Regal in 2000.
The type-approved Optimarin Ballast System (OBS) is certified by a comprehensive range of classification organizations, including DNV GL, Lloyd’s, Bureau Veritas, MLIT Japan, and American Bureau of Shipping.
Shipowners that have chosen the OBS solution include Saga Shipholding, MOL, Grieg Shipping Group, Gulf Offshore, Farstad Shipping, NYK, Nor Line, and Evergreen Marine Corp, amongst others.
Optimarin’s OBS, which is already AMS accepted, is the only UV system to have satisfied the USCG’s marine water FDA/CMFDA tests so far. The system is now on course for full USCG approval in 2016.