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Suppliers are caught between opportunity and uncertainty

Fri 17 Mar 2017 by Paul Gunton

Suppliers are caught between opportunity and uncertainty
Alfa Laval has conducted a gap analysis to check its PureBallast BWMS against the revised G8 Guidelines (credit: Alfa Laval)

Demand for BWMSs should peak as the BWMC enters into force, but changes to IMO’s testing standards prompt questions over future type-approvals

Ballast water management system (BWMS) suppliers find themselves caught in a pincer movement. Just as IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention (BWMC) nears its entry into force, which should bring a welcome boost to sales, IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) is revising the convention’s G8 guidelines covering its testing requirements.

Some in the industry had hoped MEPC would take the opportunity of aligning the guidelines with US Coast Guard (USCG) requirements and, although they are closer than before, they are still different. So manufacturers will still need to follow two testing and approval regimes to secure both IMO and USCG type-approval.

BWTT invited a number of leading BWMS manufacturers to offer their insights into some of the issues arising from these developments, and their feedback suggests an industry that is coping with opportunity and uncertainty in equal measure.

With its ratifications finally reaching the all-important 35 per cent of the world fleet in September 2016, manufacturers have seen an increase in enquiries about their products. “Ratification has served to place a clear time marker in the ground,” said Joe Thomas, managing director of Wärtsilä Water Systems. “Enquiry volumes are up [and] customers are approaching their needs more seriously,” he said. Orders themselves – especially for retrofits – will pick up around its entry-into-force date this September, he said.

Mark Riggio, senior market manager for Hyde Marine, has seen a similar trend. “Ratification has definitely increased our enquiry levels, but has not yet translated to a significant increase in business,” he said. Optimarin’s chief executive, Tore Andersen, echoed that remark. It was the first to obtain USCG type-approval and Mr Andersen said it had seen “a very high increase in enquiries, but we are not so far drowning in orders.” At Alfa Laval its vice president Anders Lindmark, who is head of its PureBallast activities, reported increased enquiries following both the BWMC ratification and its USCG type-approval two months later.

Their experience was shared by Ian Stentiford, global vice president of Evoqua Water Technologies, who acknowledged increased enquiries but “the tidal wave has not yet hit in terms of actual installations.” That will hit next year, he predicted. He believes that most buyers have decided what technology they prefer; “it is just a question of which manufacturer in that category,” he said.

China’s SunRui believes that the BWMC ratification is good news for all BWMS makers, “especially those making progress with USCG type-approval,” as SunRui itself is at the time of writing in March. “We believe the booming of the retrofit market is approaching,” the company told BWTT.

Another chief executive, Andrew Marshall of Coldharbour Marine, also reported a marked increase in enquiries, coupled with increased sales activity. “Our firm view is that the active selection process by fleet operators has started in earnest,” he said.

Tom Perlich, founder and president of Ecochlor, reported a growing orderbook over the past year, including orders from Unicom and SCF Novoship, but it has seen a more general increase in customer enquiries “as they begin preparation for compliance with the IMO convention.” 

This feedback suggests the initial impact has been to generate enquiries, rather than orders, a view that was articulated by Rasmus Folsø, chief executive of Desmi Ocean Guard. “The impact has not been as significant as expected,” he said, due to uncertainties about USCG type-approvals and possible further postponements of the IMO compliance dates. Nonetheless, its turnover more than doubled in 2016 compared with 2015.

Those uncertainties around USCG and IMO developments prompted BWTT to ask suppliers for their thoughts about the revisions being made to the G8 guidelines. Would their equipment satisfy the new requirements and were they concerned that they would still differ from USCG’s requirements?

Mr Perlich said there were no significant differences that would be of concern to Ecochlor, but it was also clear from his comments which he views as the standard his company’s equipment must meet. “USCG test protocols are generally perceived as more rigorous, standardised, and transparent than the G8 guidelines,” he said. “The expectation in the industry is that if a BWMS can receive USCG type-approval then it will be acceptable under the revised G8 guidelines.”

Mr Andersen approached the question from the same angle. Apart from IMO allowing the MPN testing method, the new G8 Guidelines look very similar to USCG requirements, he said. “So for all makers that have got USCG type-approval, it should be mainly paperwork and maybe a few tests” to confirm compliance with the G8 requirements. SunRui shares that view: “The tests we have done for USCG type-approval can cover all requirements from the revised G8 guidelines,” it said.

Mr Riggio is also unconcerned by the changes. “We have been a strong participant in this process and our recent testing has covered all of the upcoming changes,” he said. “We fully expect to have type-approval issued for our product immediately after the new G8 is finalised.”

Joe Thomas of Wärtsilä welcomed the G8 revisions because they move IMO and USCG requirements closer together and “remove elements of the previous G8 guidelines that were considered open to interpretation.” Wärtsilä is confident, he said, that it will meet the new requirements “with little or no impact on the current Wärtsilä BWMS specifications.”

Mr Marshall also welcomed the revised guidelines. Coldharbour’s IMO type-approval testing met standards that exceeded the IMO guidelines, he said. For example, to ‘future proof’ its technology, “Coldharbour successfully tested for organisms down to 2µm in size – a far more rigorous test than required by IMO,” he said. It also showed no significant regrowth after 11 days, which is more than twice the IMO requirement of five days “and 11 times the USCG requirement of only one day,” he said.

Alfa Laval has carried out a gap analysis to compare its completed tests and the requirements of the revised G8 guidelines. It identified that a few tests of biological efficacy are needed, which were scheduled as this issue went to press. “A completed application for an updated G8 certificate is expected before end of Q2,” Mr Lindmark said.

Desmi Ocean Guard was involved in revising the G8 guidelines, said Mr Folsø, since it advised the Danish Maritime Administration. “We just need to complete some additional bench-scale testing to address the concern about the required minimum holding time,” he said, which should be completed before Q3 this year. Nonetheless, “We already know that our system meets all the requirements,” he said. “In our view there is a good alignment between the requirements in the revised G8 guidelines and the USCG requirements.”

Mr Stentiford believes that the gap between the revised G8 Guidelines and USCG requirements will not be certain until MEPC 71 in July. “There is room for interpretation,” he said. Nonetheless, although the revised guidelines may require Evoqua to conduct a few extra tests, “there is nothing in there that is dramatic for our journey,” he said.

However close the two sets of regulations have become, there remains a gap between them. “If you pass USCG type-approval you will pass G8,” he said. “It does not necessarily follow the other way round.”