New efforts to reduce the threat of stowaway organisms

For thousands of years, rocks or sand were used as ballast in shipping. When modern technology shifted that function to water, a major new ecological consequence was discovered; invasive species are being discharged into vulnerable ecosystems around the world. Norwegian maritime innovators are among the world leaders in developing technology to reduce the threat.

The scale of the challenge is enormous. With over 80 percent of the world’s goods carried by ship, approximately three to five billion tons of ballast water is transferred each year. It creates a paradox for the maritime industry. Ballast water is a core element in the safe operation of modern shipping, but its use also poses what the International Maritime Organization (IMO) calls “a serious ecological, economic and health threat”.
 
A Wide-Ranging Menace
The IMO estimates that at least 7,000 different species are being carried inadvertently in ballast tanks. Bacteria, microbes, small invertebrates, eggs, cysts and larvae from invasive species are being released into sensitive ecosystems in every ocean, creating “severe environmental, economic and public health impacts”.
 
There are hundreds of examples of the havoc wreaked by these species. One case is the filter-feeding North American jellyfish (Mnemiopsis leidyi), which has migrated to the Black Sea in high density, depleting native plankton stocks so greatly that it has contributed to the collapse of the entire Black Sea commercial fishery. And in many countries, ‘red-tide’ algae (toxic dinoflagellates) have been absorbed by shellfish, such as oysters, which contaminates the fish and when eaten, can cause paralysis and even death.
 
State-of-the-art facilities at NIVA BallastTech provide IMO certification testing for ballast water treatment systems.
© O. Pettersen, NIVA

First to the Mark
The Norwegian Institute for Water Research, (NIVA) has established a subsidiary company, BallstTech AS, which is equipped with the world’s first testing centre for compliance with the IMO regulations.
 
This centre offers:
 Full scale land-based testing of treatment technologies in accordance with IMO guidelines
 Shipboard testing of treatment technologies in accordance with IMO guidelines
 Small scale and pilot scale testing for basic approval and verification of performance prior to full-scale testing
  Extensive expertise and highly qualified staff Comprehensive generic Quality Management Plan (QMP) and Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) conforming to IMO requirements
 Access to natural seawater with different salinities in addition to freshwater

To become IMO certified, all cleaning equipment for ballast water must pass tests in a land-based facility equipped with huge tank capacity. The requirements for the tanks are at least 200 m3/hour.
 
In addition, equipment will be needed for algae and zooplankton growth, systems for harvesting natural organisms in surface water, and complete documentation for ecotoxicology and risk assessment.
 
BallastTech is uniquely equipped to help industry reach approval for all of these systems. The company has created a leading facility for land-based testing and has recently carried out its first test for a Swedish technology company.
 
State of the Art Testing Centre
Situated at the Solbergstrand Marine Research Station, some 20 kilometres south of Oslo, the NIVA-BallastTech facility offers to perform large-scale growth of added organisms, such as bacteria, zooplankton and algae. The staff can assist clients in harvesting systems expertise, analysis and test systems for eco-toxicology.
 
At Solbergstrand, clients will find seawater intakes from surface and 60 meter depths, as well as freshwater tanks to explore all levels of salinity. Both test and control water are included in the cycles and are created with additives in a 516-m3 joint supply tank. For ballasting and de-ballasting testing, test water is moved through cleaning equipment to a 230-m3
holding tank. Next, the test water is pumped through for a second treatment to a 205-m3 testing tank for the purpose of sampling and five-day storage.
 
Single treatment technologies have a slightly different methodology. Here, the test water is sent directly from the supply tank, through the cleansing process, and into the testing tank. Control water is then pumped the same way, but it is directed around the cleaning equipment. Then the control water is sent to a 205-m3 control tank for testing and storage in the same conditions as the test water.
 
Chemical-free cleansing
A chemical-free ballast treatment system is being put forward by Alfa Laval in cooperation with Wallenius Water AB. PureBallast has also undergone successful early testing by NIVA and DNV for compliance with the IMO regulations. The system represents a “turning point in the long struggle to stop the spread of invasive species by ballast water,” says Peter Carlberg of Alfa Laval on their website.
 
The core element of the system is AOT (advanced oxidation technology). The company has developed a variant, Wallenius AOT, which is installed in systems that treat the water during the process of ballasting and de-ballasting. Titanium dioxide catalysts are employed, which generate radicals when exposed to light. The short-lived radicals break down cell membrane or organisms, without using chemicals or creating any harmful residues.
 
The company says that avoiding the use of chemicals was both an environmental decision and a practical one. No additives means no need for supplies to be stocked on board ship or handled by the crew. The system is designed to have as small a footprint as possible, be easy to install and simple to maintain. For ease of use, the system is fully automated and is built to have a lifetime that lasts as long as the vessel it is serving is able to sail.
 
The Norwegian company OceanSaver has developed a solution for this with its OceanSaver ballast water treatment system, and the Höegh Trooper vehicle carrier was retrofitted with the OceanSaver ballast water treatment system.
© OceanSaver

New Guidelines
Cleansing equipment and technology is just one element of the new IMO guidelines. Changes in shipping practices are also called for to reduce the uptake of organisms during ballasting. Among the most important is the call for ships to avoid port areas where populations of harmful organisms are known to exist. The organization stresses that regular cleaning of ballast tanks and removing sediments will also help wipe out harmful organisms, as well as taking measures to avoid any unnecessary discharge of ballast.
 
Other elements of the new guidelines include undertaking ballast water management procedures, such as exchanging ballast water at sea and replacing it with ‘clean’ open ocean water. The reasoning behind this technique is that species taken on at port are less likely to survive in the open ocean, due to the difference in conditions.
 
Enough being done?
Norwegian environmental watchdog organization Bellona is critical of the IMO with regard to the ballast water issue. The group feels the agency has shown itself to be a “somewhat ineffective” organization in dealing with the seriousness of the threat, and it has led to a nation like Australia being forced to “clean up on its own”. The group calls for international laws to be enacted in this area while the shipping industry must realize “that treatment of ballast water is a necessity”.
 
Bellona estimates that Norway pumps out 40 million tons of ballast water in harbours along the coast. As evidence of what can happen, it points to a 1998 algae outbreak, which was blamed on ballast water from an area around Japan. The result was many tons of fish lost at a high economic cost. The group says consequences to Norwegian fishing and coastal communities from invasions of organisms carried in ballast water are enormous.

 

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