Decades ago when the first discussions started globally, the Ballast Water Convention (BWC) entered into force on 8th September 2017. The issue was initially discussed within the World Health Organization. Following the news that the Cholera Bacteria was introduced in South-America by ships’ ballast tanks. Subsequently, many countries and stakeholders have worked thoroughly within the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to regulate the introduction of invasive species from ships’ ballast water.

Challenges rise as ‘BWTS switches will be turned on’

After many years of intensive land-based testing of ballast water treatment systems (BWTS) world-wide, they will now actually be applied in practice. Much has been speculated about the – possible- difficulties with BWTS, but the real test will occur as a growing number of BWTS will be applied in practice the forthcoming months and years.

A real bottleneck is that the approximately 2,000 ships that have installed BWTS contain a valuable ‘cargo’ of information that is crucial. Experience data that is crucial for the improvement of the BWC in general, and the Code for approval of ballast water management systems (most likely becoming the mandatory BWMS Code, fomerly G8 Guidelines). The crucial question appears to be:

How do all maritime stakeholders create a reliable and productive ‘testing environment’ to further improve the BWC and its further implementation?’

MEA-nl’s role on-board

Over the last fifteen years, MEA-nl and its team members have been testing many BWTS. During these years, we have continuously been involved in the regulatory process to create both effective and workable BWC and accompanying guidelines. Besides this, MEA-nl’s approach is to test with ambient water and sediment to the greatest extent possible. We are convinced that by doing this, we offer the ultimate challenge to test BWTS with the required land-based and ship-board tests.

The actual approach for these tests varies across the globe. But, to summarize, all tests that are required in regulations take place under conditioned circumstances. Testing BWTS in full operation on-board must be regarded as a fulfillment of the total test cycle. A crucial ‘chain’ in the continuous improvement of R&D of technologies, and, improvement of regulations.

Here is how MEA-nl defines its own role in on-board testing in years to come:

  1. On-board experience is necessary ‘fuel for improvement’ for BWTS manufacturers
    Without information about the actual sea areas where the systems operate, experiences with BWTS long-term operation, and crew experiences, BWTS manufactures and ship-owners will be cut off from necessary improvement. In an intense process between ship owners, BWTS manufacturers and test facilities, such as MEA-nl, continuous technical and operational improvement could and should take place.
  2. Practical biological efficacy verification is possible… and achievable
    Testing biological efficacy is not rocket science, and it is economically feasible. Naturally, such verification tests can be kept confidential between the parties involved to ensure an effective and result-driven approach. MEA-nl aims to play its role in this challenge.   
  3. Test facilities’ experience will assist ship owners to choose effective approach
    Nearly every BWTS contains a first filtration step and a subsequent after treatment. For example, both the conditions of the point of intake (amount of sediment and organic matter) and the filtration step determine the efficacy of the after treatment to a great extent. It has already become clear that such processes can potentially complicate the total BWTS effectiveness.MEA-nl’s approach and objective is to assist ship-owners to choose an effective approach. In practice, this may comprise of:
  • Existing installed BWTS
    Based on the analysis and test results of biological efficacy, co-operate with ship-owners and manufactures to further improve BWTS application;
  • Existing BWTS and -to be- installed BTWS in the future
    Assisting ship-owners for solutions for their fleet or individual ships based on sailing area (point of ballast intake), specific ship characteristics and operational requirements by fleet managers and crew. This will, in fact, be a process of transferring a long list to a short list of treatment technologies. The main objective is to provide the shipping sector with the necessary information to choose an effective approach. An effective approach leading to a choice for specific treatment rather than the choice for a specific manufacturer. It is our opinion that in this way, MEA-nl and test facilities can remain to play an independent and productive role.

Whether such tests and results are shared for the purpose of the Experience Building Phase of the Convention, is of course up to manufacturers and ship-owners.

Altered path of implementation

Last MEPC 71, it was agreed to provide ship operators more time to install BWTS. Based on the applying IOPP dry dock intervals, ship owners can choose how to implement the mandatory BWTS   and D2 standard on-board. Some useful summaries were provided by several maritime stakeholders. They can be downloaded here and here.

MEA-nl’s ‘at the movies’

MEA-nl is located at the crossroads of three salinities of ambient water. With the abundance of natural circumstances that the Wadden Sea, Lake IJssel and North Sea offers. To fully present these favorable and fascinating circumstances, images ‘speak louder than words’. A short introduction movie to illustrate our work and location in Den Oever. It only takes 2 minutes to take this visual trip to our impressive location, in the upper Northen part of the Netherlands. Start your trip and introduction here.

MEA-nl in the Press

With the BWC implemtation forthcoming, we have been involved in two articles about our work, track record and vision of succesful BWC implementation.

Our article (english introduction, full article only in Dutch) for the national magazine ‘SWZ Maritime’ can be downloaded here

Our contribution for the magazine of the recent ‘Flora and Visserij Dagen’ in Den Oever in August can be downloaded here