This article was first published in Spring/Summer 2018 issue of the International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
The battle to be top dog in the supply of ballast water management systems started in 2004 when the International Maritime Organization (IMO) introduced the Ballast Water Management Convention to stop potentially invasive species from ships’ ballast water spreading. Familiar maritime names, countless other companies and several well-funded start-ups responded quickly and, by the time the measure entered force in September 2017, there were more than 60 suppliers of ultraviolet, electro-chlorination and other ballast water management systems (BWMS). The suppliers are currently seeking IMO and US Coast Guard approval to give them an edge.
“This is a landmark step towards halting the spread of invasive aquatic species, which can cause havoc for local ecosystems, affect biodiversity and lead to substantial economic loss,” said IMO secretary general Kitack Lim last September.
Industry commentators have raised concerns over the time it has taken for the convention to enter into force. With the further implementation delay sanctioned at the 71st sitting of IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee, which allows some existing vessels to continue operating until 2024 (depending on International Oil Pollution Prevention survey dates) before fitting BWMS technology, it set a possible time frame of 20 years from endorsement to full adoption. This has proven costly to many suppliers, with insufficient funding to make it through until the giant pay days.
For others, the delay has delivered an unexpected bonus. Wärtsilä received IMO approval and is in the middle of the US Coast Guard approval process for its Aquarius range of BWMS following a research and development programme. The recent refurbishment of its assembly facility in Poole, UK has given Wärtsilä the production capacity to respond to high volume that will be required when the market takes off.
Wärtsilä’s managing director for BWMS Joe Thomas has built up this unit from scratch and is buoyant about the future. “It’s not just about water treatment equipment, there’s a lot more to manage as we seek to put our customers first – installation, training, support, spares and servicing are all wrapped up in our global through-life support solution in the Wärtsilä Smart Marine Ecosystem,” he says. “It’s been a long journey, but our efforts will be rewarded and our customers will realise the benefit of working with a global partner.”
While some suppliers have put their faith in one technology, Wärtsilä has developed two options. “Ultraviolet is a cheaper option for small to medium size treatment (ballast pump) capacities, but there is some uncertainty over it meeting all requirements without imposing operating restrictions,” comments Thomas, who expects cautious owners will seek solutions that minimise failure risk. “Alternatively, the electro-chlorination option is available for medium to large treatment capacities and is inherently more controllable, with the inclusion of a fixed chlorine dose level pitched to reduce risk of non-compliance to a minimum.”
Regardless of the option preferred by clients, Wärtsilä can advise on operational practices to ensure compliance. “We have engineered these robust systems to work effectively in harsh environments through the ship’s lifetime,” Thomas explains. “Combined with our training and global support, we can give our customers peace of mind.”
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