OP-ED: Knowledge pays when selecting and operating BWMS

Written by  
Mark Riggio with Filtersafe on BWMS compliance

Mark Riggio

By Mark Riggio Head of Marine, Filtersafe

Upfront costs and operational expenses are important considerations for all ship owners and operators purchasing ballast water management systems (BWMS).

This means it’s critical to take every variable that might influence CAPAX and OPEX costs into account before purchasing a new system. As ballast water regulations mature, so too has research into the true costs of compliance with ballast water regulations.

A Patchwork of Regulations

Ballast water regulations are complex, dynamic and sometimes competing. The two key current regulations are the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Ballast Water Management Convention and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) regulations. However, the regulatory landscape may diverge further.

In the U.S., for example, states including California may introduce separate rules.  And then there are the individual class societies and the IACS Unified Requirements (UR), like UR E10 with two different revisions coming into force next year. The bottom line is that whichever regulations your vessel must adhere to (based on its unique operating route) you need to ensure that compliance is cost efficient.

Checklist Priorities

First and foremost, you must ensure that you have a BWMS that provides long-term and reliable treatment of invasive aquatic species. The financial risks of regulatory non-compliance are very high and a low-quality system opens you up to these risks. In its 2020 report, SGS (6) details its own experience of conducting nearly 100 tests and observing that 21% of those tests indicated that the discharge sample likely did not meet the IMO D-2 discharge standard. Ultimately, even if initial sunk costs are lower, an inadequate system will end up costing you more than alternatives by not providing reliable ballasting operations.

So, how do you ensure that your system is an effective one? Firstly, by checking that it has a high quality filter that is appropriate for your vessel’s unique route and operating profile. Systems fitted with high-quality filters are proven to eliminate the largest size class of organisms; stopping them from being introduced into the vessel’s ballast water system and tanks. These filters would have eliminated 94% of the non-compliant tests found by SGS in their report.

What else should you look for? Consistent flow rates. Ballast systems are designed to maintain a balance between the loading and discharge rates of cargo and the ability of a vessel to adjust for the cargo weight through ballasting.

Unanticipated slowing of the flow during ballasting can have dangerous consequences for vessels during cargo discharge if the stability of the vessel becomes compromised. This is particularly critical today as overtaxed crewmembers may not have the ability to constantly monitor the flow rate of the ballast system.

Chief among the problems that are encountered by ballast water filters is the potential that they can clog. Since clogging is primarily related to the filter’s ability to clean itself automatically, the ability to scale the cleaning mechanism of a ballast water filter is critical.

Overall System Cleanliness is Key

So, when looking for a system, make sure that the filter has the ability to modify and scale a cleaning mechanism, so that you can respond to the changing water conditions and routes that the vessel encounters. A strong filter will also have been through the stringent Shanghai test and maintained a consistent flow rate.

Other key questions to ask yourself when choosing a system include, does this system keep my ballast tanks clean? A good BWMS filter doesn’t just remove harmful organisms, it also filters sediment and other debris that can accumulate in ballast water tanks.

You need to clean these out for safety, regulatory and vessel efficiency reasons. Not to mention the extra carrying capacity you have without heavy sediment on board.

Does this system need minimum maintenance and shutdown time? If something goes wrong, what is the service like? Will this BWMS easily fit into the vessel? All of these are key considerations, which may ultimately affect your operating costs.

If you take all these factors into consideration and make informed decisions about a BWMS, you will be compliant with all BWMS regulations, your OPEX costs will be significantly lower than competitors and you will not be contributing to the biodiversity issues caused by invasive aquatic species.

All vessels must comply with the D-2 standard for the implementation of the Ballast Water Management Convention by September 2024.

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