Consistent ballast testing standards
Ports across the globe are at the front line of the fight against invasive aquatic species carried in ships’ ballast waters which have had a significant economic impact throughout the world, writes Dr Brian Phillips, managing director, Chelsea Technologies Group
Ballast discharge events can have a catastrophic impact, such as outbreaks of deadly disease, complete collapse of fish stocks, mass blockages of internal waterways and even the total eradication of some species. It has been estimated that the total loss to the world economy as a result of the presence of invasive organisms could be as high as 5% of annual production.
Some of the invasive species that have had a proven impact on the environment through the transportation and discharge of ballast water from ships include Killer Algae green seaweed, native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, which has spread widely in the Mediterranean; and the European Green Crab which has established populations on both coasts of North America, in southern South America, Australia, South Africa and Japan, impacting the commercial shellfish industry in several regions.
A solution to this long-standing problem came with the entry into force of the Ballast Water Management Convention (BWMC) in September 2017. After years of debate, the BWMC provided the maritime industry with a framework to deal with the increasing threat of invasive aquatic species and to date, 74 states have ratified the Convention, representing more than 75% of the world’s merchant fleet.
To control the further spread of these species in vessels’ ballast water tanks, the revised BWMC introduced two standards for the handling of discharged ballast water. D-1 addresses the ballast water exchange standard and D-2 details the ballast water performance standard using an approved BWTS.
Ships under construction whose keel was laid on or after 8 September 2017 must conduct ballast water management that at least meets the D-2 standard from the date they are put into service. For existing ships, the date for compliance with the D-2 standard is linked with the renewal of the ship’s International Oil Pollution Prevention Certificate, after September 2019.
Despite the timeframe since the entry into force of the BWMC, the full impact of the regulation is yet to be seen. Shipowners are not only scurrying to evaluate the array of available Ballast Water Treatment Systems (BWTS), but are also contending with varying standards for testing and verifying compliance, leaving them open to great commercial risk despite having made a significant investment to ensure compliance.
Reports since the regulation entered force suggest that some crews are struggling to ensure compliance, risking potentially significant fines and reputational damage, as well as the negative impact of invasive species on the environment. An ever-increasing number of BWMS are being type approved in accordance with either IMO or USCG requirements, offering assurances over their accuracy and reliability.
However, challenges remain around the operation of systems onboard vessels. The USCG recently noted in its Port State Control Annual Report that the number of BWM deficiencies doubled in 2017 compared to 2016, based on broadly the same number of inspections.
The majority of deficiencies relate to logs and record keeping, with alternate management methods, mandatory practices, BWM plans and the discharge of untreated ballast water also featuring highly. To mitigate the risks associated with non-compliance, crews need to be familiar with the operation of their BWTS and have a clear understanding of maintenance practices and procedures.
Underpinning all of this is an issue that is creating further risk for shipowners despite the installation and effective operation of a BWTS and this is the lack of an agreed IMO regulation or ISO standard for the accurate shipboard testing and analysis of ballast water.
The current ISO 11711-1:2013 provides guidance on the materials, design, and installation of equipment used to take samples of treated ballast water from the discharge pipe onboard a vessel, however it does not yet include agreed guidance on how to perform representative sampling and analysis of ballast water.
This creates the risk of inaccurate test results which could lead to non-compliant discharges and potentially significant fines for the shipowner, as well as the reputational damage that would come as a result.
Compliance testing needs to be based on proven, trusted and accurate data and this is reliant on the creation of an agreed, robust and consistent standard for shipboard ballast water testing.
Chelsea Technologies Group (CTG) is a leading designer and manufacturer of sensors for the maritime sector.
As the industry continues to work through the issues and challenges associated with the operation of BWTS, CTG is working closely with regulators including the IMO, ISO and port authorities in the development trusted and workable international standard for ballast water sampling and analysis that will provide reassurance to shipowners that their investment in a BWTS has not gone to waste.
Detailed analysis of ballast water samples to assess regulatory compliance needs to be conducted in a laboratory setting by water microbiology specialists. However, for both shipowners and Port State Control (PSC), the ability to conduct accurate shipboard testing of ballast water samples is essential.
For PSC, it allows them to effectively target vessels for compliance, negating the time and expense incurred for unnecessary laboratory testing. For shipowners, it allows for operational issues to be identified before non-compliant discharges are released, allowing for corrective action to be taken before they are facing potentially significant fines and delays.
CTG’s FastBallast compliance monitor can assess ballast water samples at any stage during the discharge operation and can be operated by any member of the crew with no requirement for additional crew training.
FastBallast pairs the most sensitive technical components with a statistical method to generate a cell density that is comparable with laboratory analysis across all species and water types. This approach allows a measurement to be taken independent of an assumed cell size, in order to achieve the most accurate and precise readings to provide operators and port authorities with the highest level of confidence in compliance.
It is the only technology capable of operating in a flow-through mode, while providing a high degree of accuracy with a representative report on discharge compliance.
FastBallast uses the single-turnover method, which was recently independently verified by the Chinese government as the most accurate methodology for portable ballast water testing, based on a series of benchmark tests that measured the accuracy of several methods against laboratory testing.
Alternatives include the PAM multiple-turnover method, which provides a much lower detection limit (< 1 cell per mL) as the 20ml sample size avoids sampling problems at low cell densities. FastBallast is capable of determining the phytoplankton cell density of ballast water to IMO D2 & USCG Discharge Standards (10 to 50 µm range), with an equal degree of confidence as laboratory analysis.
As more and more nations continue to ratify the BWMC, some have been actively leading the way with implementing robust ballast water testing processes. Since August 2017, Saudi Arabia has been conducting ballast water monitoring on vessels to ensure compliance.
Being the operator of a large number of Saudi Arabia’s ports, leading global oil major Saudi Aramco recently selected CTG’s FastBallast to conduct sampling and testing of ballast water at its portsand is now being used to conduct spot checks undertaken by third-party sampling companies.
Sampling data has so far been obtained from more than 500 vessels by Global Strategic Alliance (GSA) using CTG’s FastBallast monitoring system, with a pass rate of 90% reported for vessels using the D2 standard.
CTG’s FastBallast is setting the gold standard for effective enforcement of the BWMC, and will help dramatically reduce the impact of invasive species worldwide. As well as its established presence in Saudi Arabia, CTG is in discussion with leading port authorities worldwide to help drive industry change in developing portable ballast water testing standards.
The successful enforcement of the BWMC is vital to protect global economies and ecosystems, but the fact cannot be ignored that it brings a significant burden to shipowners in ensuring they are compliant.
Regulators and port state control need to ensure that ballast water sampling and analysis is conducted using a proven methodology that is measured to a consistent industry standard and shipowners need the assurance that their significant efforts and investments have not been made in vain.
This can only be achieved through the implementation of a rigorous and agreed industry standard for portable ballast water testing.
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