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Preparing Your Ballast Water Treatment System Installation To Avoid Non-Compliance

ballast water compliant

The following article is a summary of Mark Riggio’s participation in a discussion on the topic from BWMTech 2020. You can see the summary of his discussion on best practices for ballast treatment system operators and ship owners here.

The filter is the keystone of the entire Ballast Water Treatment System (BWTS) and therefore the linchpin for the system’s success. However, the installation of a BWTS is almost always an afterthought when it comes to a ship’s design or retrofit. The smallest thing can create a barrier to proper installation, such as where a pipe is laid, so it is very important to look at the BWTS installation as far in advance as possible to prevent or remove barriers to its success.

The Source of the Problem: Installation

To provide the right filter for a ship there are many questions that need to be answered: how many tanks the ship has, their volume, power required to run the pumps, etc., However, the BWTS is typically an afterthought and something shipowners look to place on their vessels simply to meet regulations. 

If there are issues during commissioning or testing of the Ballast Water Treatment System, typically, it is because the filter was installed incorrectly, hindering its functionality. Less frequently it is due to a fundamental issue with the filter itself, and its ability to clean itself.

Recognizing the problem begins with installation, Filtersafe brought Mark in specifically because of his experience in the BWTS industry. His level of expertise and engineering knowledge in the filtration space is an asset in Filtersafe’s plan to get more guidance into customers’ hands to make sure that filters are installed properly.

Apathy Towards Non- Compliance

Compliance is a major issue, and it is a learning curve for ship owners. There needs to be buy-in from everyone involved throughout the process to ensure that the BWTS is installed properly and that compliance will be achieved.

At this point, there isn’t usually buy-in at every level because the BWTS isn’t perceived as a priority. Shipping vessels were never designed to have a water treatment plant onboard, and operators have many other things on their to-do list that are critical to the vessel’s functionality. This tension leads to the problem of how a well designed and built BWTS can end up being problematic, or not working, once it is onboard. Industries that utilize similar technology, such as drinking water treatment plants, have dozens of people operating machinery that on a boat one person is responsible for. Plus, they have much more space!

Mark shares an anecdote that is typical for onboard problems with BWTS:

During shipboard testing at a previous position, there were problems with very large organisms coming out of our discharge water that was being sampled to ensure compliance. They could not have passed through the BWTS filter, yet they were coming out of the discharge water in one port. He did some analytics and long story short, water from overboard was being allowed back through the sample port so they were sampling ocean water and not the treated water. At this point, he went and spoke with the crew to see if he could understand why this was happening. It turns out when the BWTS was in use it was setting off an alarm, which was annoying the ship workers. They discovered if they throttled the system and decreased the inlet pressure, the alarm would not bother them, but this allowed seawater to make its way up from the overboard to the sample port.

Crews know how to make systems work. Sometimes, though, what they do has unintended consequences. With this information, Mark looked to solve the nuisance alarm issue, which was easily accomplished. The core problem with the system, though was much more difficult to address because the vessel had no check valve on the outlet from the BWMS.. Despite the fact that the check valve was supposed to be there all along and was indicated on the drawings, the installer and even the commissioning engineer had failed to notice it was not actually installed. Little things that are on a drawing that does not get followed up on during installation can cause problems down the line.

Education About Environmental Impacts and Benefits

The general apathy towards proper installation occurs largely because no one is educating ship operators and installers about the environmental impacts the system has. If the staff responsible for the system’s success do not understand the benefits, they’ll lack the motivation to ensure that the is installed properly, and you’re likely to run into one of the problems previously mentioned.

On top of this, often BWTS are purchased based on price and nothing else. It can be a hard sell to a client to explain why your system is even 5% more than a competitor – but it works so much better. Purchasers are not thinking about the implications down the line if the system doesn’t work properly, they are just focused on the here and now, which is the price. Again, education can do a lot to remove that apathy. We need to explain that they are buying something not just to meet requirements, but to protect the estuaries, seas, and oceans so they can go fishing with their kids and grandkids.

As we are getting closer and closer to the mandatory installation date, there is less resistance from those on the ship about taking responsibility for making sure the system is working on board, but we cannot let that prevent us from continuing to focus on education.