Opinion: How to ensure you have a Ballast Water Treatment System onboard that actually works

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by Ioannis Stefanou BEng (Hons), MSc, CEng, MIMarEST, Group Technical Director – Wallem Shipmanagement

The second half of 2016 brought shockwaves to some shipowners who were still in a state of denial about the need to install Ballast Water Treatment Systems (BWTS) onboard their vessels. The ratification of the Ballast Water Management Convention and the announcement of the first U.S. Coast Guard Type Approved BWTS, saw many shipowners rushing to drydock their vessels at the beginning of the year, or de-harmonise their IOPP certificates in an attempt to delay fitting a BWTS onboard their ships.

Others have already installed a BWTS onboard or have decided to install one. Much has been written on the various constraints that are to be faced for selecting and installing a system, but not much has been heard about the systems installed on board. Do they work? And by work I am not referring to if they treat the water to the desired level, I mean whether or not they operational. The answer to this is that unfortunately many don’t, at least not in such a straightforward way as many manufacturers would like us to believe.

Within the Wallem-managed fleet we have more than 40 vessels with BWTS installed; either during the New Building stage or retrofitted. These are systems across the range of five different treatment technologies and by various manufacturers. Only two thirds of the systems installed were fully operational onboard within the first six months – on some vessels they were not fully operational even after a year. The problems weren’t inherent to a specific type of technology or manufacturer; although I have to mention that one type of technology had a 100% success rate for problem-free operations, despite different manufacturers. I don’t have any official numbers from the industry but it is understood from informal chats that issues with the installed systems is something commonly experienced.

At Wallem, when we realised the extend of the challenges that the crew and the Superintendents faced with the operation of some of the BWTS, we decided to follow a centralised approach and have one person focusing on making sure that the systems onboard had become fully operational, before handing over responsibility to the Fleet Superintendents.

Our approach to this compromises the three key elements for achieving operational excellence which are people, assets and procedures. We are focusing on crew training by the manufacturers, both onboard and ashore. We also offer familiarisation courses at our training centres as part of the pre-joining training. Lastly, we rotate some of our senior officers who are experienced with certain systems to enable them to share their knowledge and experience on board.

On the BWTS equipment front we are in close contact with the manufacturers in order to resolve the issues faced. I have to mention that the response and support by all manufacturers has been superb. There are inevitably issues with components or new issues (even new to the manufacturer) which crop up, but we always working together to bring the system to full operation in the shortest of time.

Finally, we have generated specific job routines in our planned maintenance system based on manufacturer’s instructions and our experience and also have created ship-specific operating instructions and troubleshooting advise. Even if it is not required yet, our policy is that the BWTS is operated regularly in order for the crew to be familiarised with the operation and that we maintain the system in full operational condition for when we are required to use it.

The road to Compliance with the Ballast Water Management convention and U.S. requirements is not easy for owners, and is certainly costly. Installing systems that might not be fully functional when required is not something that any owner would like to see. At Wallem we have experienced that good planning, execution and focus; as well as close cooperation between the BWTS manufacturers and the ship manager, can minimise the burden to the owner.


About Wallem Group
Wallem Group is a leading international provider of quality maritime solutions with over 110 years of industry expertise and a focus on safety and operational efficiency.

Services include Ship Management & Technical Services, Crewing, Ship Agency and Commercial Management of a wide range of vessels. Wallem customers benefit from a wide range of in-house services including newbuilding supervision, drydock support, lifeboat maintenance & repair and marine procurement.

Wallem Group is headquartered Hong Kong and has major service hubs in the key maritime markets of Hamburg, Shanghai and Singapore. We have ship agency offices, crew training centres and technical support operations that span 19 countries and 49 locations around the world.

Ioannis Stefanou

In his role as Group Technical Director of Wallem Shipmanagement, Ioannis Stefanou leads Wallem’s technical teams in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Europe in delivering reliable, cost effective and safe shipping operations and technical services.

Mr. Stefanou has a strong engineering background coupled with an in-depth knowledge of ship operations / technical ship management developed through his experience in various roles of increasing responsibility with large ship management companies, as well as with reputable privately-owned ship operators.

He holds Bachelor in Mechanical Engineering, and Master in Science degrees in both Marine Technology and Technical Management of Ship Operations.

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