Never mind the ballast

A pioneer in the ballast water treatment industry since its inception in 1994, Stavanger based Norwegian firm Optimarin AS made the strategic decision to develop an exceptionally environmentally friendly solution for purifying ballast water.

Indeed, although the dynamic firm recognised that there were various chemical and environmentally friendly methods for purification, it chose to pursue a solution that uses no chemicals and leaves no residual products that are harmful to the ocean or environment. Following six years of developing its system, the company was given the honor of installing the world’s first ballast water treatment system on board the cruise ship Regal Princess in 2000. Since this major milestone, the company has sold more than 350 systems and installed more than 240 of them.

Further testing, developing and patenting of new technology followed over the years in accordance with the IMO’s recognition that the issue of non-indigenous oceanic species in different areas of the ocean needed to be addressed. This resulted in the IMO adopting the Ballast Water Management Convention in 2004, which was set up with the aim of preventing harmful aquatic organisms spreading from one region to another.

Focused on adhering to these stringent standards, Optimarin obtained type approval for the Optimarin Ballast System (OBS) in 2009, which was in accordance with guideline eight and the IMO’s ‘International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, 2004’. Discussing this key period in the company’s history with Libbie Hammond in Shipping & Marine magazine in December 2014, Tore Anderson, CEO of Optimarin said: “We did our first commercial installation in 2000, then the Convention arrived in 2004 and the system we had at that time didn’t quite meet the IMO’s criteria, so we went back to the drawing board and changed some parts of the system. This evolved into an improved version, which was type approved by DNV on behalf of The Norwegian Maritime Directorate in 2009. This is in principle still the system we are selling today.” The Optimarin Ballast System (OBS) also has assured approval from a range of classification organisations, such as Lloyd’s, Germanischer Lloyd, Bureau Veritas, MLIT Japan, American Bureau of Shipping and AMS/USCG.

As one of the very few ballast systems that doesn’t use or generate chemicals or biocides during treatment or cleaning processes, the operational capability of OBS was based on the company’s idea that these systems should be environmentally sound, simple to use, flexible and easy to install; moreover, it should be usable on both newbuilds and existing vessels. Features of the OBS include a fully back-flushing filter with 40 micron screens that is fully automatic and self cleaning; it can also remove large sediment particles, phytoplankton and zooplankton under heavy sediment load conditions. The filtered ballast water is then directed to a disinfection chamber where ultraviolent lamps deliver UV radiation for 100 per cent disinfection. Moreover, Optimarin’s flexible modular construction provides customers with efficient use of space and power as well as easy integration with the ship’s systems. Having successfully developed a product that exceeds its ideals, Optimarin today uses its two decades of experience and knowledge to provide a superior service to customers, as Tore highlights: “We know each system is tailor-made into the integration of the ship and, thanks to our 20 years of experience in this business sector, we are able to provide advice to our customers on how they should operate their vessels once the OBS is installed. For example, you can’t just go up to the river and pump ballast as you did previously; you need to think about where your vessel is operating and how high or low the water level is and what the levels of sediment are in that area. Our experience is beneficial to them.” These strengths have resulted in the strategically located Optimarin developing an impressive customer base that includes the Royal Navy, Technip and Saga Shipholding; the latter of which provided Optimarin with a NOK 100 million fleet retrofit contract in 2012. This major contract launched Optimarin to the forefront in ballast water treatment (BWT) systems supply for the global shipping industry and covered complete BWT systems, including engineering and service agreements for 24 open-hatch bulk carriers; it also called for large-scale OBS that are capable of handling all seawater salinities and fresh water in accordance to the IMO’s convention. “The Saga Shipholding contract has given us a boost in retrofit as well as a lot of experience in providing gulf and stream ballast water treatment technology to large organisations; the contract has also led to us gaining contracts with other companies.

“Furthermore, because customers such as Saga Shipholding and Evergreen have our systems onboard their operating vessels, we are both gaining experience in how these systems operate and how we can operate our systems. This experience will open up doors for us when customers see that the OBS works as our customers will tell other companies and we will gain further work through word-of-mouth,” says Tore.

Although Optimarin is gaining contracts through a number of shipping operators and owners taking a prudent approach to meeting upcoming global BWT regulations, the firm is still awaiting the surge in work that will come following the IMO’s approval of the Ballast Water Management Convention. This will only happen 12 months after ratification by 30 States, representing 35 per cent of world merchant shipping tonnage. As of April 2015, 44 countries representing a combined tonnage of 32.86 per cent of the world’s merchant fleet have ratified the convention. Further accelerating IMO ratification is the US Coastguard’s type approval for BWT systems, which is anticipated to take place in 2016, as Tore notes: “With the US Coastguard approval coming into play next year, 30 per cent of the market will be going to the US, which means companies within that market will have to move forward with BWT systems anyway.”

Aiming to distribute more than 2000 systems in the first five years after ratification, Optimarin is optimistic about the future as more than 50,000 vessels will require the system once IMO enters the convention into force. “With the US Coastguard enforcing type approval a lot of customers have dived into the retrofit market and are asking for fleet contracts involving OBS installation in 2016. We have also witnessed an increase in willingness from bigger companies to plan for implementation. We are positive about the future and feel next year will be good for us, absolutely,” concludes Tore.


Pioneers in the environmentally friendly purification of ballast water

Obtained type approval for the Optimarin Ballast System (OBS) in 2009

Fully operational OBS test facility