AJOT Insights

Ballast Water - does it have the power to scrap ships?

Dec 01, 2016

What has one to do with the other you might ask? First we need to address what ballast water is and how it affects our oceans.

Lift us upon the water

As a vessel takes on cargo or passengers, it becomes unstable unless there is some way to equalize the weight and level the ship. This “ballast” is usually water taken on in one port as she loads and discharged in another as weight is removed. The word comes from Middle Dutch and means “useless cargo”. Special tanks holding the water often pick up sediment, bacteria or marine life, which is foreign to the discharging area. Ships at sea forced to jettison ballast to rebalance their weight could spill this cocktail of potential contaminants into the open ocean. Something was needed to monitor and control the indiscriminant dumping of dirty water.

And the sea will reward us

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient…”

The opening line from a reflection by Ann Morrow Lindberg says a lot about the nature of the solution. In 2004 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted a convention to establish standards and procedures for managing a ship’s wastewater. Scientific research by concerned parties was called for to monitor the effects of ballast water on the environment. Ports and terminals were urged to provide receptacles for the transmission and filtration of ballast as vessels cleaned and repaired their tanks. Technology for the internal treatment of water was urged and owners were required to invest in onboard systems to clean ballast. Ships were required to adopt management plans and to maintain record books. This log noted water taken on and released into either a receptacle or at sea and included any unscheduled discharge of ballast. The convention also established filtration standards for the discharge of particulates. These could be met by commercially available “onboard” technology.

Coast Guard steps up control

In 2012 the US Coast Guard adopted a federal ballast water treatment standard. It requires all vessels discharging ballast in U.S. waters to be equipped with approved water treatment technology. It applies to all new vessels built on or after December 1, 2013 and to existing vessels having a ballast capacity of less than 1500 cubic meters or more than 5000 cubic meters as of their first dry dock after January 1 of this year. Based on this federal mandate several countries have adopted similar regulations. In addition, after years of discussion, IMO members have schedule worldwide enforcement of the Ballast Water Management Convention by fall of 2017. At that time every ocean going vessel will need to have onboard technology for the treatment of wastewater.

Filters Are Us

The IMO calculates that cargo vessels transport 80% of the world’s cargo and that they carry 3 to 12 billion tons of ballast each year. Loss to our eco-system in the U.S. alone is estimated at $138 billion annually. I see an opportunity here!

P.T Barnum once said, “Every man’s occupation should be beneficial to his fellow-man as well as profitable to himself…”

When it comes to the “Business” of marine filtration he was so right. International regulation has produced a market for ballast treatment, which is anticipated to grow to over $34 billion. Between 2009 and 2020 over 57,000 units will be installed on commercial vessels to meet mandated requirements. And what is the cost of filtration you ask? Well as an example a tanker can pump upwards of 20,000 m3 of ballast per hour. Considering that today’s container ships are about the same size, pumping rates would be similar. A ballast treatment system able to handle that capacity can cost upwards of $3 million. Today there are around 50 vendors specializing in marine water filtration and the list is growing. Carriers and ship builders like Cosco Container Lines and Hyundai Heavy Industries have even entered the market place.

Holy reality check Batman

Over the last 10 years ship owners have had to consider retro-fitting everything from blending marine lubricants to alternative maritime power. Now they are mandated to install water treatment plants. When you also consider advancements in fuel efficiency, older vessels look less enticing for water treatment.

The average age of a cargo ship was traditionally 30 years. A flat economy and depressed freight rates, on top of retrofitting for ballast, is not a winning combination for older vessels. The adjusted average age of ships after 2014 was about 15 years. Now I see the light! Owners have more reason to purge ships, which are not fuel efficient, may require plugging in at port and must clean ballast water. Heaping the 2017 IMO “regs” on top of the list will be the tell.

So I’ll ask again. Ballast Water – does it have the power to scrap ships?

Author Photo
Matt Guasco
INF Marketing and Logistics, Inc.