U.S. shipowners start shopping for ballast water treatment systems


For years, commercial maritime fleet operators have known that stricter rules for ballast water discharges were on the horizon. In the spring of 2013, three regulatory milestones occurred that mean it’s now time for engineers to spring into action.

In late March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its new Vessel General Permit (VGP) final rule. As expected, the regulation adds tighter standards for ballast water discharges, in hopes of limiting the spread of invasive species and pollutants. The VGP specifies a compliance schedule that will prompt the installation of ballast water treatment systems on ships, with a series of deadlines that begin arriving in just a few months.

The month after the VGP was made public, the U.S. Coast Guard announced a list of treatment systems that it has accepted for use for a five-year period. Then in May, the international Marine Environment Protection Committee reached an agreement on water sampling, port state control, vessel inspections and detentions.

Courtesy Hyde Marine

The Hyde Guardian HG-700 ballast water treatment system installed aboard a roll-on, roll-off ship. Hyde’s cleansing process employs filtration plus ultraviolet light.

The regulatory decisions give the maritime industry the long-awaited information it needs to begin its push toward installing ballast water treatment systems on vessels. With compliance deadlines rolling out in 2014 and 2016, shipowners need to recognize the scale of the decisions they soon will need to make, said William Burroughs, BalPure product line manager at Severn Trent De Nora.

“Never before in the maritime industry has anybody ever done water treatment to this extent,” Burroughs said.

VGP applies to commercial vessels greater than 79 feet in length, except for certain vessels that discharge in only one captain-of-the-port zone. Unless the operator complies using other methods, the VGP requires ships to install ballast water treatment systems as retrofits at their scheduled dry dock after the beginning of 2014 or 2016.

Ships with a ballast capacity of 1,500 to 5,000 cubic meters need to install at the next scheduled dry dock after Jan. 1, 2014. This includes many offshore supply vessels, anchor-handling tugs and small general-cargo ships.

A ballast capacity of less than 1,500 cubic meters requires an installation at next dry-dock after Jan. 1, 2016. Many crew boats, oceangoing tugs and large fishing vessels fall into this category. The same deadline applies to the largest cruise, container and bulk ships plus tankers and car carriers whose capacity is greater than 5,000 cubic meters.

The learning curve and lead time to arrange an installation are considerable, so vessel owners need to begin their research and accounting as soon as possible, said Jad Mouawad, senior engineer for piping systems and pollution prevention at Det Norske Veritas.

“Familiarize yourself with the convention and talk with the makers,” Mouawad said. “The most important planning would be putting a budget aside. Depending on the size of the ship, it can be $2 million to $3 million per ship.”

The multimillion-dollar price tag would apply to the largest tankers and bulk carriers. A lesser-capacity ultraviolet filter system on a smaller vessel can be around $200,000.

There are many methods for killing microorganisms and removing water pollutants. Aside from UV, various manufacturers offer treatment systems that use filtration, chlorination, electrolysis, biocides, oxygen depletion, ultrasonic methods, heat or combinations thereof.

Jim Mackey, key accounts manager with Hyde Marine, said the VGP schedule for 2014 and 2016 require shipowners’ attention now. Mackey’s Cleveland-based company manufactures Hyde Guardian ballast water treatment systems, which use filtration and UV.

“It’s absolutely time to get serious,” Mackey said. “Engage yourself with a manufacturer and perhaps engage a consultant. It’s time to do an evaluation of your fleet to determine where your vessels fall in this time line. That will tell you when you need to engage marine engineers to plan the work. … You have to be conscious of the planning time, engineering time, dry-docking time and installation time.”

Any new vessel with a keel-laying date after Dec. 1 of this year needs to have its treatment system installed before it launches. The wave of retrofits after New Year’s Day of next year and in early 2016 is expected to create a scheduling crunch, so owners should study their product and installation options now.

“You need to dry dock because you’re breaking into the main ballast lines and you end up cutting into the side shell of the vessel,” said Jim McGillivray, BalPure sales manager. The process requires “one year to 15 months lead time to do it in a relaxed and calm fashion.”

The installation itself takes about 15 to 18 days, McGillivray said. BalPure is a biocide-based treatment system.

One large fleet operator that is trying to stay ahead of the game is Crowley, which is already planning numerous installations for 2014-15. When the final VGP schedule was released in March, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based company prepared a spreadsheet with due dates for each oceangoing vessel, including tankers and articulated tug barges.

Bill Metcalf, Crowley’s vice president for strategic engineering, said his company is asking manufacturers for technical details. For example, some ballast water treatment systems need more onboard machinery and space than others.

“We’ll probably do our tankers first because they’re very active and we ballast them a lot,” Metcalf said. “Our dry-deck-cargo fleet is going to be more of a challenge. There is no power on board and there is no piping on board.”

The EPA arrived upon the compliance dates, which are identical to the Coast Guard’s schedule in a separate rulemaking, because they proved to be the most realistic by the time the new VGP was finished.

“The big thing to highlight is how closely aligned the Vessel General Permit came with the Coast Guard regulation,” said Cmdr. Ryan Allain of the Coast Guard’s Office of Environmental Standards. “With the draft VGP, there were some implementation dates that were retroactive. EPA wound up coming out with a final permit that match our implementation dates.”

The EPA decided that the vessel inspections would be conducted by the Coast Guard, which already boards ships anyway for maritime safety and security checks.

“It’s good that they’re cooperating, because it lets the owner know that there’s going be one (agency) — the Coast Guard — boarding the ship,” said BalPure’s Burroughs, whose company is based in Sugar Land, Texas. “They have to rely on the Coast Guard’s manpower on the waterfront to actually do the inspections.”

By Professional Mariner Staff