Ballast systems to be tested by the U.S. Coast Guard

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is continuing to press forward with its programme for certifying and approving ballast water treatment systems. Known as the Shipboard Technology Evaluation Program (STEP), the USCG aims to assist developers by providing a system against which they can test their equipment, thus creating a future market base of approved systems for the shipping industry. 

A workshop for interested parties will take place in Washington on 21 March 2006, at which the Coast Guard will provide further guidance on how to apply to enter the programme. What is encouraging is that STEP will provide an opportunity to see how the systems work in practice and against strict port state control assessment. As the system will actually be testing against the U.S. standard - a standard which is stricter than the IMO’s - there is considerable interest in seeing whether current ballast treatment system developers will be able to obtain approval. Approval in this case means a designation of equivalent compliance with current and future ballast requirements.  

STEP is designed so that vessel operators will be able to apply for approval while testing a prototype system. Acceptance into STEP will then allow the vessel, providing the system continues to operate effectively, to maintain compliance with any future U.S. ballast water standards. This is seen as the incentive for vessel owners to participate in any ship board tests. 

While companies such as Ecochlor in the U.S. are seeking to join STEP, there is also a need to ensure that flag states also begin the process of providing statements of compliance with ballast treatment systems under the IMO legislation. NEI Treatment Systems meanwhile is looking at two options for joining the STEP scheme over the coming months but notes that it is also vitally important for the flag administrations to ensure compliance with the ballast systems of the IMO Convention and so start the certification process on an international level. 

And so to the IMO process, which is also moving toward a climax in the evaluation of technology available to meet the international standard. Although the IMO will not assess the availability of treatment systems capable of meeting the international standard again until October this year, concern among the treatment systems manufacturers is that, without the support from and willingness of the flag administrations to begin the approval process, incentives for developers and their financiers to continue searching for a solution could be hindered.  

As the STEP initiative looks set to commence its work in the next few months, it is here that the ballast water community will focus. At an international level, however, continued support and focus on the IMO regime must be maintained. Of particular significance for the international community will be the work of the IMO next week as the debate on ballast treatment systems using active substances continues (see previous article). 

Contact: Tim Wilkins