All hands on deck

in conversation with wieger duursema about ballast water management systems

The International Maritime Organization’s Ballast Water Management Convention came into force on 8 September 2017 and applies to all seagoing vessels carrying ballast water. These vessels must carry a certificate on board, as well as an approved ballast management plan and a ballast water record book. This sounds simple enough, but it’s not the biggest challenge. For many shipping companies, changing the ballast and choosing/installing a ballast water management system seems to be a real challenge. And what makes it even more complicated is that the United States has its own legislation and implementation schedule, and there are only a few systems that meet US requirements. We talked to Fleet Development Engineer Wieger Duursema about the Ballast Water Management Convention in actual practice within Wagenborg.

Before we dive in deep, just what is ballast water?

Ships use ballast water to improve their draught, stability, and strength when they’re not (fully) laden. They do that by pumping water into their ballast tanks from ports, rivers, and the open sea and then discharging it elsewhere in the world as soon as the ship is loaded. They need ballast water for a safe journey.


That sounds logical enough. So what’s the problem with ballast water?

A ballast tank full of ballast water is also a kind of mobile aquarium full of organisms and bacteria, which may not have any natural enemies in the harbour where the ballast water is later discharged. These invasive species can then reproduce freely, with all the negative consequences that entails. Ballast water regulations therefore have the same objective as the biosecurity controls at Australian airports: preventing invasive species from threatening the local biosystem.



That’s why ballast water needs to be subject to rules. So what do those rules actually mean for a shipping company?

Besides a number of administrative requirements, we are now expected to change ballast water and in future to disinfect it. Strictly speaking, we could also sail with a fixed volume of ballast, but that would lead to too much loss of tonnage. To disinfect ballast water, a ballast water management system is required. That’s expensive, requires electrical power, and takes up space in the engine room. And it also means that the ballast operation takes longer.

Have the first systems already been installed?

We are dealing with different implementation schedules resulting from US and global (IMO) regulations. In close consultation with the departments involved, we have determined a strategy for how we can phase in a ballast water management system for our own ships and those of captain owners. In 2019, the first five of our own ships will be equipped with a system: Beatrix, Roerborg, Erieborg, Reggeborg, and Bothniaborg. We are currently working hard on preparations for equipping the last two. 


“In 2019, the first five of our own ships will be equipped with a system: Beatrix, Roerborg, Erieborg, Reggeborg, and Bothniaborg. We are currently working hard on preparations for equipping the last two. ”

What needs to be considered when installing the system?

When choosing the ballast water treatment system, we looked closely at the areas where the vessels operate, their ballast operations, and their technical features. Wagenborg vessels operate in fresh, salt, brackish, hot, cold, clear and turbid water, so the system needs to work well in all those different kinds of water. And for those that travel to the US the system must have been approved by the US Coast Guard. Fortunately, we have been able to draw on our experience with the water treatment systems on our T Series vessels. We ultimately opted for a system based on a combination of filtration and UV radiation, particularly because these systems are not affected by the salinity of the water.

Installation is quite a job. At the Projects & New Building department, we consider right from the start how the system can be positioned in the engine room. That’s often a challenge, because the original design has often taken no account of the need for additional space. We then plan the work in close consultation with the fleet management superintendent concerned. During the two weeks that we need to install the system, we also carry out maintenance work, such as overhauling the ship’s engine.


It sounds exciting – those first ballast water management systems.

To be honest, these are not the first vessels in our fleet to have such a system. The T series have had one for several years. But the five I mentioned are the first to have a system retrofitted in an existing vessel. After a long period of preparation we are now actually going to install the systems – an enjoyable phase in the project.

What have you learned from the T series?

Mainly various practical things. For example, we’ve paid special attention to being able to strip the ballast tanks properly. This means that we want the system to be able to extract the last bit of remaining water from the tank. And when making our choice we also took account of the availability of an existing service network. After all, ballasting is an important operation for our ships. 


So just installing a ballast water management system isn’t the end of things?

Definitely not! It’s also important to train our crews in how to operate the on-board systems, including the ballast water management system. Problems may also arise that we need to solve. We’ll also be taking a close look at how the ballast treatment system works in different types of waters.