Feature: Ballast water Goldrush

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With implementation of the IMO’s Ballast Water Convention coming in September 2017 the problem for yards is looking like one of supply, not demand. It should be welcome news, but it is also bringing its own headaches.

There should be a goldrush of retrofit business for yards. Estimates of the number of ships needing retrofit BWT installations over the next 5 years start at 35,000, but a figure of 50,000 ships is more common. Bureau Veritas puts the as high as 120,000 ships. Ships have to fit treatment units, or face consequences such as time-consuming and potentially tricky ballast water changes at sea. Either that, or go to scrap.

Not so simple

But as with the implementation of SOx regulations last year, the situation is unlikely to be quite so simple. Even using a more conservative estimate of 35,000 vessels requiring installations, there are only about 250 yards worldwide capable of doing the work. That would mean an average of 23 installations per yard, per year, over the course of the next 6 years – one every 16 days.

Bojan Kavazović, Manager of Ship Repair Sales at Victor Lenac yard in Croatia, says: “We expect that during next 1-2 years we’ll see only a moderate number of installations and the figure will rise as the deadline approaches (Sept. 07, 2022), so we’ll inevitably have a bottleneck from the yards’ side.

“Another bottleneck will be the equipment producers. Some 84 have applied for approval out of which 67 have been IMO approved and none have yet received USCG approval.

“At the end of the day as the “D-day” approaches owners will either have to cope with some no name Chinese producers or the USCG will again postpone the deadline for implementation.”

$36 billion bill

As it stands, from September 2017, the Convention will require vessels in excess of 400 GRT to have a type approved BWMS installed and operating in accordance with the convention guidelines, and conforming to detailed discharge performance standards. Purchase and installation of systems will cost up to, or over, USD 5 million per ship. The total bill has been estimated at close to USD 36 billion by 2020.

The Convention will require all ships in international trade to manage their ballast water and sediments according to a ship-specific management plan. All ships will have to carry a ballast water record book and an International Ballast Water Management Certificate. In most cases they will need an on-board system to treat the ballast water and to eliminate unwanted organisms. Letters of exception may be sought on a variety of grounds, and some cruise ships with older systems will probably ask for approval to continue using them, but that will have little effect on the overall equation.

Only 200 ocean-going vessels had ballast water management systems three years ago. They are hoping that their systems will be accepted under both IMO and US Coast Guard regulations. Equipment manufacturers are also hoping that their IMO approved systems will be accepted by the USCG, but the first certifications by the USCG are only likely to be issued in early 2017 and there are small but significant differences between the two sets of requirements.

30-day approval

The USCG approval process is being expedited and a 30-day approval process has been promised for the future, but it leaves little time to plan, order, schedule and install equipment before the deadline. This may create an unintended consequence: systems must be installed at the first scheduled drydocking after the implementation date, so some owners will elect to drydock before the deadline and thus buy themselves another five years. Owners with older ships may simply decide to get another five years work from them before sending them for scrap.

Bojan Kavazović says the rush of orders has not yet started: “Owners are currently taking cautious approach regarding installation of BWTS, they are trying to get ships into repair and to extend class before the BWTS becomes mandatory. They are also waiting for USCG to finish with testing of systems.

“We expect an increase of orders for BWTS installation from shipowners who have or expect to have long term charters to deliver cargo to US ports, so they know they have to install it in order to be able to continue working in those waters.

“Shipowners will probably start confirming ships for installation at beginning of 2017, after few more systems are certified by USCG.

Bojan says there is no clear preference yet for any type of system: “We don’t have a sufficient number of inquiries to make a safe conclusion. There are also combined systems that offer both UV and chemical treatment. In development are also pure “mechanical” systems that work on the basis of Hydrodynamic Cavitation and filters, that have low maintenance costs and no power or chemical consumption.”

The first USCG approvals were announced shortly before Christmas, for Optimmarin and AlfaLaval products, with further approvals expected to follow as 2017 gets underway.

Ballast exchange

The Convention will allow ballast-water exchange at sea in place of a treatment system, but it is not the preferred method and the regulations stipulate that
a minimum of 95% of water must be exchanged. If the exchange involves pump-through of ballast tanks, at least three times the volume should be pumped through each tank. That task will take time at sea and be difficult in poor weather or sea conditions. In-port ballast water treatment solutions are also available, and though ports are not obligated to offer them, it may be in their interests and may provide a workable cost equation for some operators.

Treatment systems are required to pass fewer than ten viable organisms larger than 50 micrometres per cubic metre, and fewer than ten viable organisms between 10 and 50 micrometres per millilitre.

Sampling methods

The sampling methods to determine whether or not water discharges meet IMO and USCG rules are also being questioned.

BIMCO has called for the IMO rules to be strengthened to ensure that systems are fit for worldwide use and make compliant performance under real operating conditions. Their recent press statement says: ”The BWM Convention extraordinarily calls for sampling of ships’ ballast water during port state inspections. BIMCO however believes that port states should accept a ship’s International BWM Certificate as evidence that its equipment fulfils the requirements of the Convention.”

“BIMCO is deeply concerned about the prospect of our members having to install treatment systems now which later may not be approved for use in US waters. This is because the US has not yet approved treatment systems that comply to its own, more stringent, national standards.”

“Shipping will have to invest significantly in the installation of ballast water treatment systems by next September – only to find the investment is wasted if their system does not meet US standards.”

UV or not UV?

There are some indications that the USCG has decided pure UV systems may not be good enough, or will require design upgrades to fully comply with their requirements.

Should the USCG decide against UV systems it would add to the worries of cruise ship owners – their low-volume ballast requirements and low flow rate requirements have prompted many to opt for UV-based systems, which make invasive species ‘non-viable’ rather than killing them. Such a decision would have less effect on tankers, bulkers and large cargo ships with larger required flow rates. These volumes are better suited to electro-chlorination, which runs a direct current through seawater to release chlorine, killing bacteria and microbes.

Photo: Blohm&Voss

Orders arriving

Jens Wahlen at Blohm+Voss GmbH says that, despite the remaining questions, orders are starting to come in, and the problem for yards will be supply, not demand: “It is not even clear if there are enough facilities worldwide to complete this job. Several companies offer the installation while a vessel is underway. However, to get the vessel certified, all ballast water tanks need to be cleaned as well and this cannot be done whilst sailing.

“Not much is expected for the first quarter of 2017. Ship owners will have to get their ballast water management certificate from their classification society to fulfill the requirements from 08 September 2017. After that, new owners will order ballast water treatment plants but they are able to wait until they renew their IOPP in 2021.

“It is estimated that ship owners will wait for USCG approved systems and some owners may even wait until they are forced into entering an agreement with the hope that the time schedule will be changed by the IMO.

“A ballast water treatment agreement can only be changed after the requirements come into force in September 2017. The problem is that today’s prices of treatment plants are quite low. With growing demand the price will increase and furthermore no one knows what the availability and the delivery time of the plants will be like in the future.

“UV-treatment systems are currently of more interest – UV water treatment is easy and also a common technology. The advantage is that no hazardous substances need to be stored or handled on board. Only a few systems are in the USCG approval process right now and 3 or 4 systems expect approval soon. Within that, one or two of them are UV-Systems.

“We will see what happens. Electro chlorination is also a good idea though and there are no problems with murky water. Every system has its advantages and disadvantages. There is a solution specific to each ship. Therefore the vessel’s ballast water system and the design space are as important as the shipping routes. If the vessel sails the majority of the time in murky waters, for example in Shanghai, a UV-treatment wouldn’t be the smartest solution. Even though a UV-plant can handle these waters, maintenance costs will increase.”

Bespoke installation

Wahlen says that planning and integrating the retrofits is not a cut-and-paste operation, so costs as well as design will vary: “Every ship is different. In general one tries to install the system close the ballast water pumps. Of course you have to find a solution with a minimum amount of installation work. It’s important that the new pipe routing doesn’t get too complex. The ballast water treatment system already generates a flow resistance and so the vessel’s ballast pumps must not be stressed more than is necessary.

“The entire duration of the project will be led by the delivery time of the BWTs. Throughout the delivery time of the plant, most of the engineering can be completed. The actual installation into the vessel can be done within a few days.

“We were in touch with someone regarding a 300m³/h ballast water treatment system for a small gas tanker. The estimated costs for the system itself, the design and installation on the ships side was altogether about EUR 500,000, which equates to approximately USD 550,000 at the moment. However for bigger merchant vessels with a ballast water capacity of about 2000 m³/h or more, our cost range per vessel is definitely right. These are today’s estimations. As mentioned before, nobody knows what the prices will be with higher demand and extended delivery times. “

‘Dead’ or ‘non-viable’

Wahlen also says the worries about USCG certification will continue to be a problem: “It is unlikely that all IMO-approved systems will also get USCG approval. The BW discharge standard of the IMO is “viable” or “non-viable”; the USCG standard is alive or dead. There were long and on-going discussions about whether the USCG would accept the IMO standard, however since December 2015, the USCG does not accept the IMO definition of “viable / non-viable”. Moreover, USCG anticipates the type approval process will take about 3 years and there is only a limited amount of institutions that offer the USCG type of approval process. That means that as more BWTs manufacturers ask for type approval, the longer the process will take and the systems need to be installed at the latest by September 2021 with the IOPP renewal.

Manufacturers waiting

Major system manufacturers have their main product lines in place and waiting for the USCG. Alfa Laval’s UV reactor-based PureBallast system has already been passed by the IMO and has completed the required USCG testing procedures. Like other major manufacturers, they have designed systems meet shipyard demands for ‘plug-and-play’ solutions.

Damen has worked with ballast water management specialists Trojan Marinex, BioSea and Evoqua Water Technologies to develop filtration and UV systems. These also have IMO-type approval and are similarly waiting for the USCG.

Wärtsilä’s ‘Aquarius’ range is in the same position with regulators. It uses automatic back washing screen type filters and a choice of either UV disinfection, or treatment with sodium hypochlorite generated through side stream electro-chlorination.

Optimarin, the first to install a commercial treatment system as far back as 2002, say they see a potential market of 25,000 ships worldwide for their OBS system.

(reprinted from Drydock magazine)

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