Green Shipping News

Ballast Water Treatment Technology: Ensuring accuracy in portable ballast water testing regulation to enable effective enforcement of the Convention

The entry into force of the Ballast Water Management Convention (BWC) in September 2017 after years of debate finally provided the maritime industry with a framework to properly address the threat of invasive aquatic species in the world’s oceans, and to date, the Convention has been ratified by 80 states, impacting the operations of more than 80% of the global fleet.

Carried in ships’ ballast waters, invasive aquatic species have had a significant economic impact throughout the world. Specific ballast discharge events have been held responsible for disasters such as outbreaks of deadly disease, complete collapse of fish stocks, mass blockages of internal waterways and even the total eradication of some species. It has been suggested that the total loss to the world economy as a result of invasive non-native organisms is as high as 5% of annual production.

However, despite the threat that invasive species poses to the world’s oceans, and even with regulation in place, a significant challenge remains in the industry today as to how the Convention will be enforced, as without effective and robust enforcement measures in place, the regulation is rendered meaningless.

The lack of an agreed IMO regulation or ISO standard for the accurate shipboard testing and analysis of ballast water is creating genuine risk for shipowners, as well as limiting the effectiveness of the Convention. While ISO 11711-1:2013 provides guidance on the materials, design, and installation of equipment used to take samples of treated ballast water from the discharge pipe onboard a vessel, it does not yet include a standard on how to perform the representative sampling and analysis of ballast water.

Inaccurate testing and false readings could lead to delays with port state control and potentially significant fines, risking reputational damage, as well as the impact of non-compliant discharges on the environment. Indeed the USCG advised in its report that operational control restrictions had been imposed on 17 vessels due to the severity of deficiencies.

A challenge for shipowners and Port State Control (PSC) alike, the variance in ballast water testing standards is creating a significant challenge for the regulators as they look to develop and establish agreed guidelines for portable ballast testing standards to ascertain compliance with the Convention, and this ambiguity is creating challenges for PSC even as the industry continues to embrace and adopt portable testing.

At the IMO’s next Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meeting, it is expected that discussions will be held around agreeing standards and guidance for shipboard testing. However, it is crucial that any guidance being developed on methodologies and testing standards is reflective of both the technical requirements of the regulation, the technical capability in the market, and the needs of regulators and shipowners, now and in the future. To eliminate the risk of any ambiguity over results, potential fines, delays and reputational damage, it is vital that ballast water sampling and analysis is conducted using a proven methodology and is measured to a consistent standard.

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has already begun to align itself more with the IMO in terms of looking at the methodologies employed when assessing type approval of Ballast Water Treatment Systems (BWTS), and it would not be unreasonable to expect more progressive administrations to lead the charge on the analysis of the >10µm beyond the D2 standard in a drive to further limit the impact of invasive species. Put simply, indicative testing alone will not deliver the capability to conduct this kind of analysis - it requires a representative sample, and any regulations and guidance around testing need to be future-proofed to this effect.

Unlike detailed analysis methods where samples need to be assessed in laboratories by specialists in water microbiology, testing with a portable testing device that uses a proven methodology can provide both shipowners and PSC with an accurate assessment of ballast water compliance, allowing shipowners to take preventative action before non-compliant discharges are carried out, and for PSC portable monitoring allows for efficient and targeted compliance assessment operations.

About Chelsea Technologies 
We have been designing and manufacturing bespoke sensors and optics equipment for the aquatic environment for over 50 years. Industries we specialise in include Maritime, Marine Science, Environmental, Defence, Homeland Security and Process Control. We have built up a reputation for globally supplying ship based systems to both military and civil operators over a number of years. These systems have been installed on ferries, research vessels, yachts and tankers.


As a leading global expert in highly advanced sensor technologies and systems, Chelsea Technologies is working closely with regulators including the IMO, ISO and port authorities as a trusted and workable international standard is developed for ballast water sampling and analysis, one that is based on a proven methodology for representative sampling and analysis of ballast water. The company has already initiated discussions with accreditation authorities and is undergoing a process of third-party protocol testing.

Chelsea’s FastBallast compliance monitor can be used by any crew member at any stage during the ballast water discharge operation, producing results in under 10 minutes. FastBallast pairs the most sensitive technical components with a statistical method to generate a cell density that is truly comparable with laboratory analysis across all species and water types. This approach allows a measurement to be taken independent of an assumed cell size, in order to achieve the most accurate and precise readings to provide operators and port authorities with the highest level of confidence in compliance.

Rigorous benchmark laboratory testing conducted by independent leading authorities has identified the Single Turnover One Pulse (STOP) statistical methodology used by FastBallast as an accurate method for shipboard ballast water testing. FastBallast is currently being used to conduct compliance tests on board vessels in Saudi Arabia, Belgium and Chinese ports.

Invasive aquatic species pose a significant economic threat across the globe. The far-reaching consequences impact aquaculture, tourism and biodiversity. As the number of ballast water treatment systems on the market continues to grow, and with a wide array of treatment solutions, there will be an increasing number of vessels equipped with BWM systems and an acceleration in the spread of compliance monitoring. To eliminate the risk of any ambiguity over results, potential fines, delays and reputational damage, it is vital that ballast water sampling and analysis is conducted using a proven methodology and is measured to a consistent industry standard. Failure to deliver this standard will risk undermining the spirit of the BWM Convention.

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For more information please contact: Emma JohnsonEmma Johnson, Maritime & Hydrocarbon Manager
Mobile: +44(0)7900 733 675 Tel: +44(0)20 8481 9042


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