Ensuring a Ballast Water Treatment System onboard actually works

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 onboard their vessels. The ratification of the Ballast Water Management Convention and the announcement of the first US 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 when 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 are operational. The answer to this is that unfortunately many don’t, at least not in such a straightforward way as many manufacturers would have us believe.

Within the Wallem-managed fleet we have more than 40 vessels with BWTS installed; either during the newbuilding 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 extent 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 comprises 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 excellent. There are inevitably issues with components or new issues (even new to the manufacturer), which crop up, but we always work together to bring the system to full operation in the shortest time possible.

Finally, we have generated specific job routines in our planned maintenance system based on manufacturers’ instructions and our experience and also have created ship-specific operating instructions and troubleshooting advice. 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 US 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 shipmanager, can minimise the burden to the owner.

Ioannis Stefanou BEng (Hons), MSc, CEng, MIMarEST

Group Technical Director – Wallem Shipmanagement

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