A regulatory rolling stone has been gathering speed within the shipping industry. The introduction of IMO- and USCG-defined standards for ballast water management (BWM) caused a tremendous stir at the time of coming into force, yet the rippling effects are still felt today. Shipping companies are scrambling to adopt and implement plans to control the number of invasive species in ballast water and thus achieve compliance with regulations. Compliance is complex and costly. What’s more, the market for technology is becoming crowded and threats of detention are putting operators under pressure to future-proof their fleets.
With deadlines on the horizon, we are detailing three ballast water trends that we can expect to surface in the near future:
1. Rising numbers of detentions, arrests, and fines
In 2018 alone, marine inspectors of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) performed 8,140 compliance exams. They were actively hunting vessels with non-compliant and inoperable systems. USCG laws on ballast water management are recognized as particularly strict and limiting when compared with IMO jurisdiction. It is for that reason that we expect most penalties to occur in and around US waters. However, in 2018, the VIDA agreement was passed by the US Senate which attempts to align US law with that of the IMO.
Individual vessels will have their own personal ‘deadline day’ as the date is linked to the renewal of a ship’s IOPP certificate. However, MEPC 71 ensures that global implementation should be achieved by September 8, 2024. Globally, 70,000 vessels will eventually need to comply with the regulations. But some industry players are ‘procrastinating’: either failing to select and implement a ballast water management system (BWMS) or prioritizing compliance with the upcoming 2020 sulfur cap regulations. Authorities and manufacturers suggest scheduling installation sooner rather than later—thus avoiding lengthy and costly downtime and the risk of non-compliance. The largest reported fine since the convention entered force was a penalty of $38,175 issued by the USCG in 2017. Although there is little news of any recent penalties, we expect that the number of detentions and fines issued will rise as authorities look to make an example of non-compliers.
2. Bottlenecks expected as deadlines draw near
It could be the case that shipowners have been thrown a curveball in the shape of the global sulfur cap, which comes into force on January 1, 2020. Some shipowners may have prioritized this over compliance with ballast water regulations. As mentioned earlier, compliance with ballast water regulations is complex, and shipping companies are being urged to consider a number of factors before heading to the shipyard.
However, it may not be wise to wait until the last minute to install a BWMS. Last year, the Ballast Water Equipment Manufacturers Association (BEMA) reminded the industry that deadlines were on the horizon. A long window for compliance was put in place to alleviate stress on shipyards, but it seems as though shipping companies are taking their time with compliance. This will of course create increased traffic at shipyards around the world, not to mention a rise in prices as demand for BWMSs reaches its peak. That being said, the threat of non-compliance come deadline day should deter shipowners from taking a relaxed approach.
3. Ballast-free vessels to enter service
The idea of ships with an alternative non-ballast solution predates the IMO’s standard-defining convention. Since the end of the 1990s, there have been a number of projects and extensive research on the possibility of preventing the spread of invasive aquatic species with ballast-free vessels. It appears that this pipedream could finally be realized, as pressure builds on operators and shipowners to be bold. However, for many, the prospect of ballast-free sailing could remain just that – a prospect – as ballast-free shipping is only currently being used for LNG carrier vessels.
Early concepts were centered on the idea that in order to remain stable without ballast water, the vessel should boast a unique hull design and a widened beam. This was to prevent the ship from rising too high out of the water after heavy cargo is offloaded. The Shipbuilding Research Centre of Japan (SRC) led the charge toward a ballast-free future in the early part of the 21st century by demonstrating that it was possible. The Non-Ballast Water Ship (NOBS) was far wider than a conventional ship and was deemed implausible. The SRC then went on to design the minimal ballast water ship (MIBS) in collaboration with Namura Shipbuilding. The design reduced the required amount of ballast water by around 65% and was therefore granted AIP (Approval in Principle) by ClassNK.
The prospect of ballast-free vessels remains a talking point throughout the entire industry. This year, the world’s first ballast-free LNG bunkering vessel will be delivered by Hyundai Mipo Dockyard (HMD). With a dead-rise hull and a twin propulsion system, the vessel will enjoy improved trim and heel without the need for ballasting. It is widely thought that a ‘domino effect’ will now occur, as more and more shipbuilders are receiving AIPs for their ballast-free concepts.