Space constraints and legal inconsistencies pose challenges for OSV operators
With the Ballast Water Management Convention entering into force on 8 September 2017, offshore support vessels (OSVs) face some specific challenges when considering suitable ballast water management systems (BWMSs), says Mark Ford, technical manager at the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA).
“One of the difficulties for our members, in many instances, is the lack of available space to fit the BWMS,” he said. “Some of the existing enginerooms are already quite compact, and these systems can be quite space hungry,” he remarked to OSJ.
His colleague Eleni Antoniadou, IMCA’s policy and regulatory affairs adviser, identified other concerns that she believes are also relevant to shipping more generally. “The greatest challenge towards compliance is considered to be the lack of standardisation among different parties of the convention: different jurisdictions impose different ballast water requirements, which creates uncertainty and confusion,” she said.
She cited the US, India and China among her list of such jurisdictions – and even South Africa, which has ratified the convention but has not implemented it in its own national laws.
In a bid to address some of its members’ concerns, in December 2016, IMCA published some guidance notes about ballast water management, which form part of a range of guidance documents offering introductions to what it has identified as the essentials of marine policy and regulatory issues.
The notes were issued shortly after IMCA had issued a regulatory update in November following the 70th session of IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 70) at which revisions to its G8 Guidelines on type-approval testing had been discussed.
In that update, IMCA welcomed those revisions, saying that it had had “significant concerns about the G8 type approval guidelines for ballast water treatment systems”. This report is being written shortly before MEPC 71 meets in July, when guidance will be considered on contingency measures relating to BWMS approvals using the revised guidelines.
“Uncertainty has been a characteristic of the Ballast Water Management Convention for over a decade, and it is unfortunate that … there is still some uncertainty over such an important aspect of implementation,” IMCA said.
For some BWMS manufacturers, the offshore support vessel sector is not a target market, but some do anticipate working with OSV operators, and one of those is Ballast Water Containers of the UK.
Its chief executive, Richard Lawson, told OSJ that its mobile containerised BWMS, called BWC Bute, “is well suited to OSVs”. He pointed out that a supply vessel’s operational area varies from project to project, so for some contracts, it will need to treat ballast water if it is crossing international boundaries. On others, however, it will not need to treat ballast water if it is staying within the same body of water.
“Like any equipment, a retrofitted BWMS sitting idle on a vessel for several months – or even years – is not an ideal scenario.” If a long-idle BWMS was required on a job, “you can be sure it will require a major overhaul to get it back to operational readiness,” he said.
In his view, these problems are avoided by installing a mobile system only when an OSV’s operation calls for ballast treatment. Otherwise, it can be removed and deployed on another vessel.
A BWC Bute containerised system incorporates coarse and fine filters with a UV disinfection chamber, all used during ballasting. When deballasting, water passes through the sea strainer and the UV chamber. It is currently specified with either Wärtsilä’s Aquarius BWMS or the USCG type-approved Optimarin OBS system, with both options fitting into a 20 ft ISO high cube container.
Preparation of the vessel for compatibility with the Bute is minimal, the company’s literature notes, requiring supply and return connections from the ballast system to be made available on deck, along with a bulkhead power fitting.
This arrangement “leads to a significant capex reduction on fleet compliance compared with retrofitting each vessel in a fleet,” Mr Lawson said.