Preserving the big blue

The JRS Brisbane looks just like any other container ship as she approaches Sidney’s Port Botany this drizzly winter morning. But onboard the vessel hides cutting-edge technology for cleaning of ballast water, helping to keep a natural disaster at bay.

DATE 2024-05-03 AUTHOR Stephanie Oley

The winter storms outside Australia’s east coast have eased, but it’s been a restless two-and-a-half days for the JRS Brisbane’s Captain Konstantin Bukhantsev and his crew since leaving Brisbane, about 1,000 kilometres north of Sydney. Although the container ship sails on an ultra-modern navigation system hooked up to a global network via satellite, it must work hard to steady its half-full cargo. A half-full ship must take on ballast water to ensure stability and lower its draft, ensuring that the propeller is properly immersed.

“A ship might be made of steel, but it can snap in two and sink in an hour if the freight isn’t evenly distributed,”

explains Bukhantsev, as he sketches a freighter with its middle bent from having too much cargo fore and aft and not enough in the centre.

When ships take on ballast water, they also unintentionally take on a host of microscopic marine organisms. These can wreak devastating environmental effects when discharged abroad. Currently most ships follow an International Maritime Organization (IMO) recommendation to exchange ballast water mid-ocean, where few microorganisms survive – preferably 200 nautical miles offshore and in waters 200 metres deep. This minimizes the inadvertent transfer of tiny live organisms from one coastal ecosystem to another.

But the JRS Brisbane is different. Built in 2009, it’s fitted with PureBallast, an innovative technology that has cut this time-consuming task from the crew’s to-do list.

Developed by Alfa Laval in cooperation with Wallenius Water, PureBallast is a fully automated and highly effective system for cleansing ballast on board. It purifies the water via a combination of filtration and advanced oxidation technology (AOT). Both methods are safe for the crew and environment.

The system is so effective it can eliminate organisms as small as 10 micrometres and in greater quantities than what the IMO legislation calls for. Bukhantsev, who hails from the Russian resort town of Sochi on the Black Sea, has known first-hand the billion-dollar damage that ballast exchange can wreak.

Black Sea fisheries were devastated in the 1990s as a result of a ballast-introduced aquatic invasion (see sidebar on page 23). “We have to care about the marine environment because this is our planet and our home,” he says.

“Water ballast treatment will help us and the next generation keep our oceans fresh and clear. My crew and I want to see the Earth in green and blue, not grey.”

Scientists first recognized the damaging problem of ballast transfer in 1903, after a toxic bloom of odontella (Biddulphia sinensis), an Asian phytoplankton, in the North Sea. Inter-oceanic shipping flourished in the 20th century, and in the 1970s scientists began examining the issue more closely.

Several ballast water recommendations have been introduced since, with the most far-reaching of these being the IMO’s ballast water management that came out of the 2004 International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments. The convention’s guidelines will soon be mandatory worldwide, and already countries such as Canada and Australia have made them compulsory.

Rigorous documentation of ballast intake and output is one important stipulation, and the ruling on offshore ballast exchange is another. But this step is not easy. “Reballasting means the ship has to stop offshore and spend four, maybe five, hours to exchange ballast,” says Bukhantsev. “That’s a difficult thing to do in a storm. Treating ballast on board makes things a lot easier.”

Once it takes effect, the convention will call for all ships to use ballast water treatment systems by 2016. In response, some 24 ballast-treatment systems have already been developed around the world and received basic approval from the IMO. Their developers include shipping and technology heavyweights in Germany, Japan, Korea and Sweden. Twelve have received IMO final approval.

But only nine systems had received IMO-type approval and full certification from their national administration as of July 2010. Alfa Laval PureBallast is one of them. The owners of the JRS Brisbane, WMS Shipmanagement in Germany, considered several alternatives before making their final decision.

“Of the options available to us at the time, only PureBallast did not use chemicals to kill the organisms, so we felt it was the most environmentally friendly,”

 says Georgios Chalaris, the company’s superintendent engineer. “It had just received final approval by [Norwegian risk management giant] DNV.”

Apart from its environmental benefits, there are several commercial advantages, Chalaris continues.

“It saves us the time, labour and cleaning agents normally used to treat the inside of ballast tanks,”

 he explains. On a ship the size of the JRS Brisbane, this process takes place twice every five years and costs around 20,000 euros each time.

“There are also reduced port fees and other commercial incentives for treating ballast on board.” Chief engineer Aleksandr Bezrukov leads the way to an engine room humming with machinery while the ship is being loaded. It’s noisy but nowhere near as deafening as when the ship is in full steam and the engine crew must wear protective earmuffs.

We inspect the compact PureBallast system, which is slightly smaller than an adjacent pump that delivers cool water to the engines. “This is very easy to operate,” the lean Russian explains. An LCD screen displays a technical diagram of PureBallast. “It runs automatically, so we just check that everything is working smoothly.”

According to Alfa Laval, PureBallast will last the lifetime of a ship – 25 to 30 years. The only major maintenance tasks ahead for Bezrukov and his colleagues are inspecting the filter and changing the UV lamps. But that won’t be for awhile. “If there were any problems, the computer would identify them native Philippines.

“The best thing about PureBallast is what it will do for the environment,” says Naing. In addition to providing positive environmental benefits, Alfa Laval PureBallast also provides a glimpse into the high-tech future of shipping. “In the 1980s and ’90s, we controlled most things in the ship’s engine room manually,” says Lopez. “From 1995 or 2000 onwards, the electronics became more complex. Maybe in another 20 years’ time, there will be robots on board.” straightaway,” he says. “But I don’t think we’ll have problems for a long, long time.”

Working alongside Bezrukov is electrical engineer Phone Naing from Myanmar and Ramon Lopez from the Philippines. The three each have an average of 20 years’ experience in their professions aboard ships, and all have seen their marine environment change greatly in this time. The example of comb jellyfish in the Black Sea is famous. And the dinoflagellate algae causing toxic red tides are endemic in Lopez’s

Customer's voice

Water ballast treatment will help us and the next generation keep our oceans fresh and clear. My crew and I want to see the Earth in green and blue, not grey.

Konstantin Bukhantsev

Captain, JRS Brisbane