Trends, trials and tribulations in ballast water market

The enforcement deadline for the Ballast Water Management Convention (BWMC) is beginning to draw near, warned Dr Stelios Kyriacou, General Manager of BALPURE BWMS at De Nora.

The expected 2021-22 peak installation period for ballast water treatment systems (BWTS) is looming particularly given the potential 18-month project lead time for installation. Owners need to be securing their partnerships now to enable a simple transition towards compliance.

When it comes to cementing these partnerships, there are some emerging obstacles that impact both sides. The significant practical, management and financial challenges that owners face must also be addressed by BWTS manufacturers.

The biggest trend we’re witnessing is the emergence of a price war between manufacturers, driven by the demands of CAPEX-sensitive owners. The reality is that although the message from manufacturers and suppliers is all about finding the right system, the incoming questions aren’t about applicability or maintenance requirements – they are about price and owner benefits. Questions about supplier managed turnkey installation comes in at a close second.

The pressure from owners to receive a low-cost, high-quality solution is causing significant ructions in what is still a nascent market. Suppliers, who only recently had their sales, growth and scalability projections stretched by two years following industry lobbying at the IMO, are now being asked not only to fully manage ship retrofit projects from end to end, but also to do it at scale for multiple owners while driving the price as low as possible.

This is a complex equation even for established companies like De Nora, who can draw upon the expertise, scale and manufacturing capacity of other business areas and our 90-year history. However, for emerging specialist and still scaling BWTS manufacturers, despite the fact that they may offer the best solutions for some ship types and operating profiles, these expectations could bar them from consideration, which is not in the best interests of the shipping industry.

In order for shipowners to make informed decisions, the sector needs to nurture a more open and honest, informative environment. This is where the Ballastwater Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (BEMA) could have a significant impact. Sharing applied knowledge to ensure a fuller comprehension of the technologies available will educationally bolster the industrial segment. BEMA aims to act as the industry’s source of technology information and share its experience and expertise with shipowners and regulators alike to work towards a smooth implementation of the BWMC.

Owners and operators might think that this is great for them as manufacturers compete with each other to offer whatever solution they can at the lowest possible price. However, the reality is that this could cripple suppliers in the medium- to long-term. A low pricing strategy is a mechanism of stimulating demand and gaining market share and does not assure the long-term solvency of suppliers especially those single product companies.

Life cycle costs

In a retrofit scenario, if owners are investing in BWTS, it’s clear they’re expecting a further 10 plus years of operation for those ships. However, it’s critical that they stop thinking about what they will pay for the installation alone and give due consideration to life cycle costing. A low-cost BWTS with meagre operational availability would be a poor decision compared to a system that is a good fit to the ship’s operational profile, with enhanced availability and reliability, but requiring a higher upfront cost.

Manufacturers developing the lowest priced specification to engage in a price war with competitors means compromise – either on durability, efficiency or, in some cases, both. That means more spend on maintenance and spare parts, greater energy expenditure and higher fuel costs for owners in the long-run. Manufacturers can also charge owners less by offering less after care and fewer support services, and there’s a risk that increased commoditisation will encourage a ‘fit and forget’ mentality amongst suppliers. This would be a disaster for owners and operators.

Shipowners have noted a lack of equipment choice at the shipyards, but they are not willing to pay the price difference or accept some logistical challenges for their first choice equipment. A notable trend is that shipyards in the Far East promote their own or locally sourced BWTS. It is very rare that any makers from the rest of the world are included in the makers lists.

They have repeatedly reported that they have been forced to accept shipyard choices, due to the very severe price penalties applied by shipyards for design changes. Logic would suggest that when choosing a piece of equipment that dictates the long-term regulatory compliance and operations of your ship, owners should more readily accommodate price or installation timescales than optimal effectiveness and reliability.


Plan an installation properly

At a recent round table in London, Anna Ziou, the UK Chamber of Shipping’s (CoS) policy director of safety & environment advised that BWTS installation work should be based on quality, as well as the cost and time involved.

She said that when considering an installation, owners should be aware of the quality issues. For example, chemicals might be difficult to source worldwide, a lack of training could be a problem and contingency plans should be drawn up.

In the UK, for instance, if a system fails, a vessel will not be allowed to discharge ballast water. In a recent survey, the UK CoS found that 57% of its members had already installed a BWTS in at least one vessel.
DNV GL’s environmental technical advisor Per Holmvang said for a vessel of 18-20 years age, it was not economically viable to retrofit a system on board.

He agreed that competence coming from training was underestimated, due to concerns over complex chemical process plants being installed.

Holmvang described class focus as ensuring the safe installation on board, the pressure vessels, piping, electrical installation, control systems, marine equipment standard, environmental testing and HSE issues.

Willem Visscher, Goltens manager engineering and business development said that the engineering company had fitted 430 BWTS thus far. He confirmed that an installation should be planned properly, from start to finish.

The initial planning should include a 3D scan of the area where the BWTS will be installed and all stakeholders should be involved in the planning process.

Optimarin’s CEO Tore Andersen said that roughly 50% of the BWTS problems concerned the equipment and the other 50% the crew. “Owners were not training their crew,” he said. Optimarin has BWTS training facilities in Mumbai and Manila in co-operation with Anglo-Eastern.

Feedback is requested from owners thus enabling KPIs to be established.

He said that an installation roughly takes six months from concept to operation but the company can supply a system in six to eight weeks if the suppliers can forward the equipment in what it calls a ‘Fast Track’ operation. Optimarin buys everything in and sends an installation forecast to the suppliers every two months. The company usually has at least two suppliers for each component.

However, today engineering is a problem causing a bottleneck, which can result in nine months lead times. Andersen advised owners to clean the ballast tanks at the same time as installing a BWTS.

The company can produce installation and operations manuals tailor made for each vessel, as even sisterships will often have a different machinery layout, including piping.

Through the company’s Optilink system, an engineer sitting in Stavanger can look into the system and advise the crew on how to set the alarms, etc. He said the electronics set up is difficult so tends to be the most important part of the system.

Optimarin hopes to introduce computer-based training (CBT) by the end of this year to train technicians. He advised owners with a fleet of 30 or more vessels to have at least two experienced engineers able to go on board and train the crew.

He said that around a total of 6,000 systems had been installed thus far worldwide.

Recently, Optimarin secured one of its largest orders to date to supply 36 systems to Ardmore Shipping. The units will be fitted on 18 chemical and product tankers, with deliveries due to commence in February next year.

Ardmore will fit two Ex proof units in each vessel.

The OBS units, the first systems in the market to achieve full USCG approval, will be fitted on a rolling basis across selected partner shipyards with whom Ardmore has existing relationships.




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