Coast Guard issues first type approval for ballast water system


After a years-long process watched closely in the maritime industry, the U.S. Coast Guard has issued the first type approval for a ballast water management system (BWMS) to Norwegian manufacturer Optimarin.

The Optimarin system utilizes filtration/ultraviolet technology and has treatment capacities ranging from 167 cubic meters per hour to 3,000 cubic meters per hour.

“The U.S. Coast Guard’s testing requirements set strong standards for the performance and validation of ballast water management systems under a range of conditions,” said Capt. John Mauger, commanding officer of the USCG Marine Safety Center. “The issuance of the type-approval certificate documents the ability of the Optimarin ballast system to meet the U.S. Coast Guard’s standards.”

Optimarin has installed 300 systems worldwide, including more than 60 retrofits, and has received almost 500 unit orders.

The Marine Safety Center is currently reviewing type-approval applications from two other BWMS manufacturers, according to Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt. Katie Braynard. Nineteen ballast water treatment systems are being tested in the Coast Guard’s five approved independent labs.

While the first type approval means the uncertainty for vessel operators in U.S. waters may be coming to an end, it’s only the first step in the process. The mandate affects all commercial seagoing ships operating within 12 nautical miles of the U.S. that are not otherwise exempted.

In choosing a system, vessel owners must take into consideration the flow rate, footprint and energy requirements of each individual vessel. The Optimarin system is limited to a maximum of 3,000 cubic meters per hour, which may not be enough for larger ships.

“While that’s good enough for cruise lines and containerships, it is only about half of what tankers and bulkers need,” said Kathy Metcalf, president and CEO of the Chamber of Shipping of America.

In the meantime, two temporary compliance alternatives will remain in place. Vessel owners can apply for an extension of the vessel’s compliance date, or they can install an alternate management system approved by an International Maritime Organization (IMO) member state. Use of an alternate management system is limited to five years under U.S. regulations. The Coast Guard has approved 58 such systems.

The Coast Guard has issued more than 10,000 extension letters for vessels with original compliance dates from 2014 to 2018. More than 1,000 applications have been received for vessels with original compliance dates in 2019 and beyond.

The Coast Guard has not issued extension letters for vessels with compliance dates on or after Jan. 1, 2019. Now that a type-approved system is available, the status of these applications will be changed from “received” to “held in abeyance” since the application’s original criteria are no longer valid. To receive approval for an extension, additional information must be submitted, including documentation about why compliance is not possible.

“Now the letter must include why the type-approved systems are not usable due to the requirements of the vessel, or it’s not yet available from the manufacturer,” Metcalf said.

Vessels also can comply with Coast Guard regulations by using ballast water obtained exclusively from a U.S. public water system; discharging ballast water to a reception facility; or avoiding the discharge of unmanaged ballast water inside 12 nm.

Enforcement will be managed through a Coast Guard Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC). Compliance will be assessed during regular domestic vessel inspections and Port State Control examinations for foreign-flagged vessels.

By Professional Mariner Staff