Best Practices for Ballast Water Treatment System Manufacturers and Ship Owners

Best Practices for BWMS

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 ensuring the proper installation of your BWTS here.

The Ballast Water Treatment System (BWTS) is incredibly important, but at the end of the day, it is at best tangential to the functioning of the vessel itself. It’s important for the BWTS manufacturers to have a comprehensive and readable manual and ballast water management plan.

The BWTS Operations Management System (OMS) is the bible for onboard ship maintenance. Mark likes to joke that the ballast water management plan in the OMS is good creative fiction – that is, the manufacturer needs to create the fiction of what could go wrong and then decide what you can do to address that. It is very important not to put a lot of text that no one will read but practical advice as to how to address actual problems – addressing poor water conditions, component maintenance and repairs, operating outside the design limitations, etc.. The key challenge is to communicate this information in a way that the reader will be able to understand and implement while at the same time ensuring that the installer and shipyard owner have all the information they need to install the system in the best way possible.

Feedback from Shipowners: The Good and the Bad

Manufacturers do not get sufficient feedback about their systems’ operation. As manufacturers, we hear every day about the 20% of our systems that have problems, yet we don’t hear from the other 80% where our ballast water filters are working great, or perhaps even better than anticipated. Since Mark joined Filtersafe, the company has been reaching out to customers who don’t have problems to understand why it’s going well. It could be simply that the system was installed properly and they are following the OMS, or it could be they’ve found hacks for how to operate the system in difficult situations. We are encouraging this type of feedback across the industry.

We as an industry need to be bigger than a loose collection of competitors. We have a unique opportunity during the experience-building phase to ‘fail’ – but to learn from what is going on. We just want to work together as a partner and help improve systems, make better systems so that crews can use them better and we can learn from the crew’s experience to make it easier for them and decrease the impact these systems will have on shipping. Shipowners want a black box to make the problem go away, and we will continue to reach out to ship owners to get that feedback so we can arrive at a combined solution.

Placing the Blame for Problems

There is tension between the ship owners and the manufacturers as to who is responsible if there is a problem. On the one hand, the shipowner needs to make sure the system is installed properly, on the other hand, the manufacturer is the one who knows how it is supposed to be installed. If there is a problem, who is to blame?

Installing the BWTS is just one aspect of hundreds of other jobs happening on a ship during a shipyard period and the installation does not usually get the attention and treatment it deserves. The manufacturer cannot always be there for the entirety of the installation, and while they aren’t there, decisions can be made that have a fatal consequence to the system’s functionality. At the time in the shipyard, the decisions made don’t seem like they will cause a problem later on – obviously, otherwise they wouldn’t decide as such. Ultimately, a seemingly small decision such as changing a pipe placement can turn out to be a fatal flaw in the operation of the BWTS. It’s really important that the shipyard employees have the right education so they care about the proper functioning of the BWTS and not just finding ways to cut corners and save money on installation.

Mentality and Compliance

Part of the issue is that operators have not yet had to deal with widespread compliance testing. This has meant that
industry best practice became to do the best you can, and that’s good enough.

There needs to be a new culture in place of not relying on ‘good enough’. It’s not as if you can just open your BWTS and look at the screen and see if it’s still functioning at its peak with just a visual inspection, you need to test. The problem is ship owners are hesitant to check their system to see if they have a compliance issue. They don’t want to know if their ships aren’t filtering properly because then it creates a record of non-compliance.

At the same time, the US Coast Guard would rather a ship owner test and see that they aren’t complying and continue operating on a contingency measure while trying to solve the problem. If the shipowner is documenting that he is trying to solve the problem he’ll be in better shape than if a compliance officer happens to board his ship and discover he’s non-compliant. As an industry, we have to encourage ship owners to switch to indicative testing to preemptively find a problem, rather than waiting for them to be tested and discover it. The shipowner thinks he may be saving time on testing, but at the end of the day, it’s the environment that is suffering.

Looking Towards The Future: Bottlenecks and Orders

The session ended with a discussion about ramping up production post-COVID and the anticipated bottlenecks in production and manpower for installations.
The culpability in delays gets blamed on manufacturers, but part of that problem is with forecasting and shipowners not being transparent about their own installation plans and timelines. BWTS manufacturers have had inventory building up because shipowners weren’t buying at the rate anticipated. This caused a ripple effect across industries and supply chains – since manufacturers weren’t buying parts the way they previously had, inventory was also building up at suppliers, and a number of them went out of business because they couldn’t weather the economic slowdown. Filtersafe is working to bring production of some parts in-house so that they have more control over this aspect, but it still doesn’t solve the problem. Looking at Clarkson’s data vs IMO for installations in 2020, only about 60% of shipowners installed BWTS that said they would. Where are those vessels that didn’t install and when are they going to come in and put in their orders?

At the same time, the supply chain issue isn’t just a result of COVID-19. There have been issues supply chain issues since the beginning, causing EPCs and shipyard owners to be wary of working with companies they didn’t think would be able to deliver after-sales service and support.

Filtersafe has worked to disperse the risk by creating regional supply chains. They have a manufacturing center in Israel and Hong Kong so they draw from both of those areas. Also, as they’ve seen small companies go out of business, they started to bring some aspects of small part manufacturing in house. At the end of the day, these steps will only go so far if shipowners aren’t more transparent about their true plans for installation in the coming years. 

What Is Ballast Water Treatment?

types of ballast water treatment infographic

Individuals in the shipping industry carry great responsibility each time they leave port. Firstly, they have a responsibility in carrying out their duties, transporting cargo, and delivering goods for clients across the globe. Completing this task is essential — and it requires each part of every ship to be in perfect working order. Secondly, shipping companies must consider the ecological impact of their transport vessels. Global shipping channels have connected humanity at an unprecedented scale, but it is also put the various ecosystems around the world at risk. This is due to microorganisms that travel in the ship’s ballast water and can contaminate or invade the marine ecology of a new region, causing untold damage to the area.

In response to these ecological risks, the International Marine Organization (IMO) adopted the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments in 2004. This Convention aimed to halt the spread of invasive aquatic species by implementing requirements on the shipping industry to treat their ballast water.

A high-quality ballast water management system is critical for the success of any shipping business. But how do these systems work, and how do they add value to your ships? This article will discuss the immense impact that ballast water treatment can have on your business.

Why Do You Need Ballast Water Treatment?

The aim of ballast water treatment is the elimination of invasive marine species. The USDA reports that ballast water is “one of the major pathways for the introduction of non-indigenous marine species.”

When ships release ballast water at a new port-of-call, they risk introducing alien species, from small fish to microorganisms, into the water around the new area. This can result in a variety of harmful effects; the European Maritime Safety Agency credit invasive marine species with microbial exposure, lower habitat quality, and other dangers that can ultimately harm fishing and even protected species in the region.

To prevent these damaging effects, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO and USCG) require all ships to “undertake comprehensive actions in order to prevent, reduce and, if possible, eliminate the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens through the control and management of ships’ ballast water and sediments.” This includes meeting the requirements of either Ballast Water Management D-1, a regulation that requires any ship performing ballast water exchange to do so with an efficiency of 95% ballast water, or Ballast Water Management D-2, a regulation that sets a maximum concentration of microorganisms in discharged ballast water. The standards for regulation D-2 are:

  • < 10 viable cells per m3 for plankton smaller than 50 μm
  • < 10 viable cells per mL for plankton between 10-50 μm
  • < 10 Colony Forming Unit per 100 mL for Toxicogenic Vibrio Cholerae
  • < 250 Colony Forming Unit per 100 mL for Escherichia Coli
  • < 100 Colony Forming Unit per 100 mL for Intestinal Enterococci

A properly designed BWMS will meet these standards automatically, eliminating the shipping operator’s need to worry about these regulations.

How Ballast Water Treatment Works

It should be noted that the majority of BWTS use a combination of filtration and a secondary, disinfection stage for treatment.

Chemical Disinfection

Many BWMS utilize biocides as their disinfection stage. Biocides, which in BWMS typically use chlorine as an  oxidizing disinfectants inactivates microorganisms in the ballast water. The main drawback of biocides, which are used in about half of all systems, is that the treated water may still need to be neutralized or detoxified before its final deballasting.

U.V. Treatment

Some ballast water treatment systems use ultraviolet lamps. As the ballast water passes through chambers that contain the lamps, the ultraviolet light impacts the DNA of the organisms and renders them non-viable, or incapable of reproduction. This effectively eliminates the threat of microorganisms from thriving in the water and prevents them from becoming a burden on the ecosystem where they are released. However, UV can be affected by waters with low TSS (total suspended solids), and its success depends largely on the quality of the filtration system that precedes the treatment.

Deoxygenation

Like biocides, deoxygenation kills any living organisms in the ballast water. The ballast water treatment system injects an inert gas (such as nitrogen) into the tank or the ballast flow to asphyxiate the organisms. This system can be effective, but it is important to note that this process takes two to four days and requires the tanks to be sealed against atmospheric oxygen. Deoxygenation is not recommended for short transits.

Heat Treatment

As the name suggests, heat treatment involves heating ballast water until it kills any organisms in the water. There are two main ways to complete this method: heating the ballast water in their tanks or heating the water by running it past the ship’s engines (effectively turning it into cooling water). Heat treatment will disinfect the ballast water and make it suitable for release, but this can take a long time – and the heat can cause greater corrosion in the ballast water tanks.

Ultrasonic Treatment

Ultrasonic treatment (also called cavitation treatment) uses high energy ultrasound to eliminate organisms in the ballast water. The high pressure caused by the ultrasound ultimately breaks down organisms’ cell walls, killing them. Ultrasonic treatment is an attractive choice because it is low maintenance and non-chemical; however, research indicates that this ballast water treatment system works best in conjunction with other treatment methods like U.V. or biocides.

Almost every ballast water treatment system uses a water filter in conjunction with another method, such as the ones discussed above. The right water filter serves several practical and economic purposes in the BWTS. First, it is an effective way to remove sediment that can be taken in at turbulent ports and if not properly removed, can collect in the ballast tanks. Additionally, a filter can remove a large portion of the microorganisms that we have already discussed. This reduces the time and energy needed to neutralize the organisms that make their way through the filter and need to be treated before the water they reside in can be stored onboard or dumped.

Your Ballast Water Treatment System

The type of ballast water treatment system your ship needs will vary based on size, available space, budget, and more. However, it is almost certain that your ship (any ship, for that matter) will benefit from a ballast water treatment system that incorporates a Filtersafe filter.

Filtersafe offers specialized solutions that perfectly compliment every ballast water treatment system. Firstly, our patented filtration screen does not only keep out most zooplankton, phytoplankton, and sediment from entering the ballast water tanks. Since the screens have proven filtration capabilities down to 25 microns, the effluent water needs less secondary treatments to sterilize the water, saving BWTS owners money through lower power consumption and use of disinfection chemicals.

Next, all E-Series ballast water filters are capable of being installed horizontally or vertically and rotated to any position, even after the filter has been delivered to the vessel. This flexible modular design allows Filtersafe to build and ship their filters faster than any other company in the market.

Lastly, the various different models of filters have been optimized to handle low or high water flows, so whether you have a large oil tanker with cavernous ballast tanks, or a simple cargo ship on short, coastal voyages, you can turn to Filtersafe to provide filters for all of the vessels in your shipyard.

Filtersafe has been an industry innovator for ballast water treatment systems for over 15 years – and today, our products filter about 25% of the world’s ballast water. To learn more about our ballast water treatment systems (or to find a filtration system that suits your ships), contact our team of specialists today.