Ballast water testing concerns raised at Miami Conference

Ship owners attending a ballast water management conference in Miami last week were surprised to learn that once a ballast water treatment system has achieved Type Approval, there are no strict provisions in place for verifying the system’s on-going operational efficiency.

According to Carine Magdo, aqua-tools’ business development manager, who attended BWMTech North America, some ship owners present indicated concern that there is no way to check system compliance, with one delegate, she claimed, commenting that once a ballast water system has been installed and commissioned, there is little by way of after-sales support.

“It does appear that once certified by the USCG or IMO the ballast water treatment system is left to run and run without anyone really knowing if it’s working or not. There is no requirement to prove efficiency,” she said.

Ms Magdo, who recently joined the French water microbiology specialist after a number of years in the land-based water treatment sector, is “very concerned” that there is no protocol in place to verify system efficiency.

“This is unheard of in land-based water treatment applications, where there are mechanisms to assess the biological and chemical make-up of the treated water. This should be a mandatory requirement,” she said.

Referring to conversations she had with a number of ballast water treatment manufacturers attending the conference, she said few gave testing much thought: “When I asked them about what they were doing to verify efficiency, few were sure whose responsibility it was. ‘We don’t carry out testing during commissioning because we are type approved’ or ‘we don’t test because it’s not our responsibility’, were typical responses.”

She said: “I’m really surprised that the makers don’t support their customers in helping to verify the efficiency of their treatment system after commissioning and in real operational conditions, especially given the high capital expenditure ship owners are making.”

Ms Magdo, who has been involved in the installation, retrofit and operation of various industrial water treatment systems (wastewater, potable water, cooling towers, etc), said: “When you do an install you have to carry out a risk analysis and validate the performance of the system defined by a series of operational and environmental protocols. I find it odd that water treatment systems in the maritime sector can be supplied without any specific guarantees on operational efficiency.”

She furthered: “When a land-based customer bought a water treatment system, the contract always included a performance guarantee clause; that means that during the commissioning and three to six months thereafter, the supplier guaranteed the performance of the system (with terms of use, of course) through different operational parameters. This was so the operator could be confident that the system was compliant not only with mandatory regulations, but also the company’s internal standards and CSR ethos.”

With ballast water treatment efficiency dependent on so many parameters, such as injection points, water volumes and flow rates, ecosystem complexity and the varying types and sizes of marine organisms, she warned “a Type Approval certificate alone cannot guarantee the efficiency of the system”.

“Ship owners, independent laboratories, system manufacturers, PSC inspectors – all parties involved in ensuring the BWM Convention is effective – need to think about testing the water, during commissioning, alongside and onboard. Quick monitoring of all three factions (bacteria, 10 to 50 µm and >50µm) is by indicator-based ATP 2GTM technology and can assess treated water within 40 minutes of sampling. This provides shipowners and manufacturers with the confidence their systems are efficient and, above all, compliant,” she said.