I am not sure whether to be happy that my company gets two more years to ensure market recognition of our treatment performance monitor, impressed by the skillful execution of MEPC tactics by the shipping industry, or just plain disappointed with another two years delay of the ballast water management convention.  To be honest my inclination is to the latter.

Now, more weathered MEPC delegates than myself probably take this kind of bump on the road in stride and remember that perfect is the enemy of good. They will also remind the rest of us less patient types that first-of-all ballast water exchange is not postponed (!), secondly that the “Same Risk Area” based approach to exemptions in short sea shipping was approved. They will point out that sampling and testing for compliance will be part of commissioning of treatment systems and, last but not least, we now have an “experience building phase” during the coming five years.

Why the 5-minutes before midnight delaying of the inevitable? We already had an amended implementation schedule for existing ships and now, based on the IOPP certificate decoupling, MEPC71 added two years of extension to full implementation taking it to 2024.

Maybe a bit of recent history of invasive species provides a clue. In the late 1980´s, the zebra mussel conquered the Great Lakes and a comb jelly conquered the Black Sea. There had been others before them, but the massive scale and devastating economic consequences of aquatic invasive species were clear to everyone and that really rocked the boat. The undisputed source of the problem was shipping’s ballast water and this time IMO was fairly quick to step up to the plate by adopting the Ballast Water Management Convention in 2004 - to cheers of the global community. It then took 13 years to enter into force – with an extra two years’ tacked on in the last minute on top of an existing extension? Well, it appears to me that key players in the shipping community, who felt ambushed and robbed of the normal sequence of grief simply reversed it: they started with acceptance, went through a depression and ended in denial.

Joke aside; I do recognize that shipowners  who must invest in treatment systems - a cost they find hard to pass on to the shippers - are relieved with the extension of two years, but apart from the saved cost of systems for vessels that can be decommissioned in 2023 and 2024, the brunt of the required investment is unchanged.

For the developers and suppliers of equipment to the marine industry, these delays are of course problematic. We should bear in mind that the Convention is based on a technology pull. IMO knowingly set standards that, although they are not uncommon on land, had never previously been applied on the scale or in the physical environment of shipping. The untold “contract” of a technology pull is basically that a market is promised in return for the technology needed: ”Give us what we want and there will be a pot of gold for you at the end of the rainbow”.

Obviously, investing in this kind of venture is everybody’s own choice, but a pot of gold did sound good and many companies already experienced in water treatment rushed to develop technologies. Today, almost 100 systems for ballast water treatment have emerged in the process. Some of these developers may have naïvely thought that the 2009 deadline of the Convention was going to deliver costumers, others that the IMO General Assembly agreeing to an extended implementation schedule in 2013 would finally bring in the crowd, or even the most patient believing that entry-into-force is the final gateway to the market. Regardless of your conviction, you are most probably seriously starved of cash by now.  

I am aware that a market with only approx. 50,000 target ships cannot sustain nearly 100 different suppliers and many will have to throw in the towel. The extension will certainly accelerate that process. My guess is that maximum 20 systems will have a role to play, and eventually 5-6 will lead the market .

But are those left standing the right winners? Well, they fought all rounds and won, so by definition they are. However, shipping should realize that abandoning the “contract” is turning the original pull on technology into a capitalization exercise, where the winners by-and-large are those with the deepest pockets. - They do not necessarily represent the best or the most agile technology, and this is what concerns me. Providing technology for shipping is already an endeavor governed by costly standards found only here – the relevance and value of which I am not disputing. An industry with such specialized demands really should be much more engaged in easing the way for innovation and development rather than employing a strategy of moving the goalposts.

My aim here is to point out that the supply of new technology delivered to shipping does not come out of the blue (no pun intended). We must attract talent in competition with the other industries. At the end of the day, all innovation thrives on a combination of lack of existing technology or service, and a market ready to pay for it.

By Frank Stuer-Lauridsen, CEO, Ballast Water Monitoring A/S


The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of GREEN4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.


About Frank Stuer- Lauridsen

Dr. Frank Stuer-Lauridsen is the CEO of Ballast Water Monitoring A/S. The bw-monitor is the world's first completely automated performance monitoring equipment for ballast water treatment systems. It continuously checks the filter and disinfection unit when operating and is the cheapest way of getting the most of the IMO experience building phase. The bw-monitor system reports to ship and shore as required and is already used onboard several vessels with different treatment systems.