Growing contamination problem
The concept of ballast, literally meaning "to give stability," has been used for hundreds of years. Ships undertaking long sea voyages or carrying cargo often require balancing to ensure safe passage.
In early years, ships utilised solid ballast including sandbags, rocks and iron blocks, which were loaded/unloaded once the cargo loading or discharge operation was finished. However, since the 1800s, ships have used liquid ballast, which includes fresh water, salt water or brackish water in various ballast tanks.
As ships exchange cargo at various ports, water ballast tanks are emptied and filled accordingly to compensate to maintain stability. Ballast water onboarded by ships for stability contains thousands of aquatic or marine microbes, plants and animals, which are then carried across the globe. The untreated waste water discarded at the ship’s destination often includes foreign and invasive marine species that can cause extreme ecological and economic damage to marine ecosystems. It can also cause serious health issues to humans.
The introduction of foreign species is considered to be one of the five major threats to aquatic biodiversity. Hundreds of such invasions have already taken place, sometimes with devastating consequences. The problem of contamination is due to the ever-increasing international trade over the last few decades, which is set to increase, indicating the situation may be set to worsen without intervention.
Averting the contamination of the world’s marine environment requires extensive co-operation across regions, governments, trade sectors and other international bodies. This effort is spearheaded by the United Nations IMO (International Maritime Organisation) - a dedicated body responsible for ensuring the health and wellbeing of the marine environment, specifically protecting against marine and atmospheric contamination in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Adopted in 2004, the BWM (Ballast Water Management) Convention, aims to stop the spread of harmful organisms from one region to another through ships’ ballast water. The convention came into force on 8 September 2017, however, since then a number of amendments have been made tightening the conditions ships need to adhere to. As at September 2017, the treaty had already been agreed by more than 60 countries, which includes more than 70 per cent of the world’s shipping trade.
The BWM Convention needs all international ships to manage their ballast water to ship-specific standards. The convention also requires ships to maintain a relevant international ballast water management certificate and carry a ballast water record book for inspection.
From the 8 September 2017, all ships must comply with the D-1 standard, which requires ships to exchange ballast water in open water away from any coastline. All new ships must also adhere to the D-2 standard, which requires ships to have ballast water treatment systems. By 2024 all ships must adhere to the D-2 standard.
The need to help stop the contamination of the water ecosystems is clear and is backed by regulation. The requirement to have effective onboard water treatment systems, therefore, presents a ripe investment opportunity.
By 2025, the global ballast water treatment systems (BWTS) market is expected to grow to around $118 billion from $20 billion in 2017. This growth is supported by expanding international trade volumes and rising government initiatives in line with the IMO conventions. The drive by the UN’s IMO for strict water quality standards has set an obligation for ocean freight service providers to meet the required standards by introducing water treatment systems to their ships.