Ports may provide ballast treatment services, but responsibility for their output is not yet clear
Port-based treatment systems are likely to see a surge in interest and importance in the coming years. IMO recognises them as acceptable alternatives to shipboard systems and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to do the same next year.
In October 2015 the EPA lost a court case when the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York said it had been wrong not to consider shore-based treatment solutions when it prepared its 2013 Vessel General Permit (VGP). It allowed the existing VGP to remain “until the issuance of a new VGP,” without setting a deadline.
EPA confirmed to BWTT at the time that this would not be before its planned expiry date on 18 December 2018. No details are available about the form that the next VGP will take, but if it takes account of the court’s ruling, it should include a policy on port-based treatment.
Under IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention (BWMC), there is scope for ‘other methods’ to be approved to treat ballast water, beyond those anticipated by the regulation, under its regulation B-3.7. That allows for the development and approval of alternative treatment methods, provided they give equivalent protection to the environment as other approved methods.
When its Marine Environment Protection Committee held its 70th meeting (MEPC 70) in October 2016, its Ballast Water Review Group (BWRG) considered whether a specific example of a self-contained BWMS should be viewed as an ‘other method’.
It looked at the BWTBoat concept that has been developed by India’s classification society, IRClass, and decided that it did not need any special consideration as an ‘other method’, declaring that “the concept as described is within the regulatory framework of the BWMC … and no approval as an ‘other method’ … is required.”
In a statement to BWTT at the time, IRClass said “BWTBoat is not a new ‘treatment technology’. Instead it is an innovative method of using existing technology.” Where appropriate, it said, recognised organisations such as class societies could assure port states that, for example, USCG type-approved systems are installed on BWTBoats.
BWTBoat could either treat ballast water at discharge or serve as a ballast provider, delivering treated water to departing vessels. An IRClass representative had advised BWRG that ships would receive delivery notes for treated ballast water and that port state control authorities should only be concerned about whether the water complied with Regulation D-2, rather than whether the ship had a BWMS.
This invites a question about responsibility for ballast water that has been treated by a port-based system. If it is found not to be compliant, is the ship, the port or the system operator liable to be sanctioned under the BWMC?
BWTT raised this point during discussion at the Sixth IMarEST Ballast Water Technology Conference in January, at which papers had been presented by Matthijs Schuiten, product manager of Damen Green Solutions, and Edo Donkers, business development manager at MEA-nl, a ballast water research and testing organisation.
“This is one of the things that we are working on really hard,” said Mr Schuiten, suggesting that it has not been clarified at IMO. He proposed that the question should be dealt with direct with the treatment service provider, in much the same way that a bunker delivery contract will set out who would be responsible for any spill. Mr Donkers agreed that it could be managed as part of the treatment contract. As long as the contractor has clear instructions, “I don’t foresee many problems with this,” he said.
Speaking from the floor, Sahan Abeysekara, Lloyd’s Register’s lead specialist in engineering systems, suggested that it would be the treatment facility’s responsibility. If the ship is following an approved ballast water management plan, once the water has been discharged to the port facility, “most responsibility of the shipowner will end from that point,” he said.
Also speaking from the floor, Markus Helavuori, a technical officer in IMO’s Marine Environment Division, confirmed that this point has not yet been addressed by IMO. “If nothing is agreed and developed within IMO it would probably be up to the port state administration to determine how these responsibilities are handled,” he said.