BWMS testing raises “serious questions” says Bryant

Dennis Bryant of Bryant’s Maritime Consulting has said in the latest edition of Maritime Reporter And Engineering News that serious questions have been raised regarding the testing of ballast water management systems (BWMS).

He noted that, in order for a BWMS manufacturer to sell its equipment for use on commercial vessels operating in US waters, the equipment had to be tested in accordance with US Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements. The equipment must then obtain a type approval certificate from the USCG. To date, type approval certificates have been issued to six manufacturers, while other approval certificates were in the pipeline.

In accordance with USCG regulations, the testing must be performed at independent laboratories that meet USCG requirements.

Burt on December 6th 2017 Dr Mario Tamburri and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) withdrew the Maritime Environment Resource Center (MERC) from the programme, citing the need to maintain scientific integrity.

Bryant wrote that UMCES was concerned that the BWMS certification testing, as currently conducted, was not scientifically sound, predictive, consistent and transparent. While there were written regulations and formal protocols that govern the testing, Tamburri said that questions had arisen regarding various specific testing procedures.

Tamburri said that the USCG personnel involved in the programme had formally and informally provided different answers to different laboratories via ex parte meetings, telephone calls, emails and written letters, resulting in dramatically inconsistent approaches at the various laboratories. Because this guidance had not been shared with all of the approved laboratories, the process was no longer rigorous, consistent and transparent. Bryant said that the USCG had conceded that there were shortcomings in its BWMS certification testing and approval process. Questions raised over time and answered informally by the USCG included:

  • whether organisms connected in a colony or chain should be sized and counted as several small individuals or as one large individual;
  • whether the regulatory requirement for an average of ‘less than 10’ live organisms per volume means 9.99 or 9.00 or some other value as regards statistical analyses and sample replication;
  • whether a land-based commissioning test could count as a biological efficacy (BE) trial if it turned out to be successful, but left as a commissioning test if the trial was not successful;
  • whether land-based ballast water hold times needed to be a uniform fixed time of greater than 24 hours in length for all trials to provide statistical replication or could hold time during land-based testing vary from trial to trial;
  • whether shipboard testing could or should be performed on non-cargo-carrying vessels that merely mimicked ballasting operations;
  • whether physical, chemical and biological challenge water conditions could be artificially manipulated (eg adding brine to change salinities, adding cultured non-native species, etc.) to meet required test conditions;
  • whether methods that had not been formally validated or approved could be used and what was required for validation and Coast Guard approval;
  • what steps should be taken to ensure that unmoving but intact zooplankton (such as eggs, molluscan larvae, foraminifera and large diatoms) found in discharged ballast water during a test were dead.

Bryant said that some of these questions might seem esoteric to the uninitiated, but he warned that different answers to the same question could result in a particular BWMS passing or failing its certification test.

Bryant said that he did not personally know if the issues raised by Dr Tamburri had substance, but did say that an agency such as the USCG administering an important programme such as this should not be having ex parte contact with individual programme participants on substantive issues at which the agency provides guidance to the participant.

“The proper procedure is for the agency to listen to all concerns; formulate uniform direction or guidance in house; and then share that direction or guidance with all participants equally, thereby maintaining a level playing field”, wrote Bryant.

Bryant noted that problems could arise because the USCG had field offices all around the US. Mariners and other stakeholders contacted those field offices on an almost daily basis seeking guidance. “Eventually, it happens that the answer received from one field office is not the same as received from another field office. When the issue is inevitably elevated to Headquarters, it gets staffed and researched.”

Bryant said that the sooner a difference of approach between two or more Coast Guard field offices or individuals on a substantive matter was discovered, the sooner a unified approach could be developed. “Assuming that this is what has occurred with regard to BWMS certification testing procedures, it appears to be time to match pointers and develop an agreed and unified approach going forward.”