IMO to review BWMS testing guidelines

Written by Nick Blenkey
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IMO MEPC meeting in session

OCTOBER 17, 2014 — Shipowners’ organizations are welcoming a decision on Ballast Water Management Systems (BWMS) taken at this week’s meeting of IMO’s Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC).

IMO’s Ballast Water Management Connvention is getting ever nearer the ratifications needed to bring it into force. During the MEPC meeting, Turkey deposited its instrument of ratification to the BWMC. Together with Japan and Jordan  who also ratified the BWMC just prior to the commencement of the MEPC meeting, 43 countries comprising approximately 32.5% of the world’s tonnage have now ratified the BWMC. Intertanko notes that Argentina and Italy both made statements at the IMO Council meeting in June advising that they were very near to depositing their instruments of ratification as well. With these two countries, the tonnage figure will increase to about 34.2%, some 0.8% away from the 35% threshold required to bring the Convention into force.

Owners have been concerned that after making the heavy investment needed to install the systems mandated by the convention, they will be hit with heavy penalties when ballast water treated by duly approved systems fails to meet required discharge standards.

Now, as proposed by the International Chamber of Shipping, Intertanko and other industry partners,  IMO has agreed to commence a review of the ballast water management system (BWMS) type approval guidelines (G8) and at the same time agreed not to penalize those owners who have already installed BWMS that are approved in accordance with the current approval guidelines.

How this will impact ships trading to U.S. waters is unclear. As required by the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Coast Guard has already published a final rule requiring that U.S. approved BWMS be installed in new ships constructed on or after December 1, 2013 as well as to existing ships by their first dry-docking after 2014 or 2016 depending on their BW capacity. The systems thus far approved by the U.S. on an interim basis as “alternative management systems” have all gained IMO type approval.

 “We are very pleased that IMO Member States have fully acknowledged the shipping industry’s concerns by agreeing to start work immediately on a revision of the G8 type-approval guidelines to make the process for approving ballast water treatment equipment more robust.Speaking at IMO headquarters, ICS Secretary General, Peter Hinchliffe, remarked In the meantime, it has also been agreed, in principle, that any shipowner that has invested in first generation treatment equipment, type-approved under the current G8 guidelines, should not be penalized, provided that the equipment is operated and maintained correctly. The adoption by IMO of new Port State Control guidelines reflecting a fair and pragmatic approach to inspection is also an important additional step.”

Mr. Hinchliffe added “While some of the details still need to be finalized by the MEPC next year, an MEPC Resolution adopted at this meeting should do much to build confidence in the Convention amongst both shipowners and IMO Member States.”

According to Intertanko, the agreement to review and eventually revise the type approval guidelines should mean that future BWMS brought onto the market and approved by a more robust approval procedure will give owners greater confidence that once purchased and installed, a type approved BWMS will meet the ballast discharge standard.

Intertanko says that it is also important that the agreement to revise the type approval guidelines was taken together with the agreement to not penalizee those owners that have already installed type approved BWMS. However, says Intertanko, “there remains some uncertainty about how the protection will actually be devised. The term ‘grandfathering’ was not used in the final MEPC Resolution and instead the member States requested the IMO Secretariat to provide legal advice on the appropriate legal action for this agreement.”

Intertanko and the industry will have active roles in an IMO Correspondence Group established to undertake the review of the type approval guidelines.

In a submission to MEPC meeting that can be accessed here shipowner organizations made the following recommendations on testing:

  1. Testing being performed using fresh, brackish and marine waters – noting the present requirement is for testing to be performed with two test waters with a salinity differential of at least 10 PSU and in effect this means that testing in fresh water can be avoided. Noting also that certain fresh water organisms such as Copepods can be more resistant to some treatment processes now commonly applied in Ballast Water Management Systems (BWMS) than marine water organisms the need is therefore for the full range of salinities, which are commonly encountered during normal ship trading, to be represented to provide assurance that the system will continue to work correctly in waters of all salinities;
  2. Testing considering the effect of temperature in cold and tropical waters on operational effectiveness and environmental acceptability – noting that BWMS have been withdrawn from the market due to residual toxicity in cold water, which was not detected during the Type Approval (TA) testing conducted with temperate water. The possibility of residual toxicity following a chemical treatment in cold waters cannot be discounted and therefore should be considered in the review. Additionally the efficacy of operation in both cold and tropical waters needs also to be verified;
  3. Specification of standard test organisms for use in testing – test organisms shall challenge the treatment process. A serious concern is that some test facilities, for convenience due to test site location, select organisms with either a high natural mortality or low resistance to disturbance. It is essential that the treatment efficacy is sufficiently challenged to provide a real life operating scenario;
  4. Challenge levels set with respect to suspended solids in test water – noting challenge levels shall be realistic, consideration of levels of clay silt and the content of Total Suspended Solids (TSS) in the test water and the need for levels to be increased needs to be taken into account. Noting further that it has been found in practice that some filtration systems forming an integral part of the BWMS cannot cope with conditions prevalent in a number of areas, particularly where heavily contaminated river estuaries are also port locations. Considering many BWMS inherently rely on the efficiency of the filtration for efficacy of treatment, the filtration phase shall be realistically challenged under conditions reflecting the worst case real life scenarios that may be encountered.
  5. TA testing discounting test runs in the full-scale testing that do not meet the D-2 standard and the results of test runs being “averaged” – Currently permitted, both practices should cease. If a system under test fails the treatment efficacy requirements at any time, then it should not be granted TA noting that this is a root cause of concern as the present allowances provide an opportunity for systems that cannot reliably maintain the D-2 efficacy requirements to gain TA. Application of the same requirements to test runs that fail the efficacy criteria that are discounted due to not meeting the control water validity criteria should also be considered during the review.
  6. TA testing realistically representing the flow rates the system is approved for – Testing should include the verification of continued effectiveness during low ballast water flow rates as a BWMS will be required to operate effectively at both full flow and reduced flow rates the latter being the case typically when topping off ballast tanks and fine adjusting the ballast condition en-route.
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