Engineering for our Environment

Saving Gaia

Environmental concerns have formed a major part of the world’s concerns in recent times, especially with our ongoing technological advancements leaving a greater footprint on Earth every passing day.

“We do Not Inherit the Earth from our Ancestors; We Borrow It from Our Children”, and per this famous quote, it is imperative that we create and maintain a sustainable environment our future generations.

The Ballast Water Treatment System (BWTS)

example of 3d modelling obtained from point clouds - piping and machinery network

example of 3d modelling obtained from point clouds - piping and machinery network

As you might already know by now, Laser Scanning has a solid place in assisting with the modelling of complex pipe networks in various places, and thus it is no surprise that we recently found ourselves involved in projects involving our ocean’s ecosystems; for the retrofitting of the Ballast Water Tank Treatment System (BWTS).

Our services are employed for a variety of reasons, such as re-creating drawings and dimensional control, for better efficiency, effectiveness and even convenience for engineering works. Today, however, we thought that we could go one step further to take a look at why such engineering works are needed in the very first place.

Some Background

A vessel’s ballast refers to the material carried by a vessel to provide the stability and buoyancy required (think Archimedes’ Principle). Basically, it enables the vessel to float properly by providing the additional weight that is needed. For vessels whose weight change frequently due to loading and unloading of cargo or other reasons, the ballast has to be adjustable as well. In the past, stone or iron, due to its high density, was used for the ballast. However, with the introduction of the steel hull, water is now preferred, because it is simply cheaper and easily adjustable.

schematic courtesy of the international maritime organization

schematic courtesy of the international maritime organization

infographic courtesy of the international maritime organization (imo)

infographic courtesy of the international maritime organization (imo)

The ballast water can be taken in (and discharged) in the open sea, providing absolute convenience for the vessels as they load or unload their cargoes. This, however, poses a devastating problem for the ocean eco-systems, especially with the ever-increasing traffic and trade volume in our oceans. For instance, at the port of embarkation, vessels will usually discharge their ballast water into the open sea as the cargoes load up, achieving the weight balance required for buoyancy and stability. Now where did this ballast water come from? Most probably from the previous port of destination of course, when the vessel unloaded its cargo. This leads to a bio-invasion of foreign species into the local marine ecosystem, which leads to disastrous implications such as changing ecosystem functions and the loss of marine species.

Shipping is the most common invasion pathway for bio-invasion. The ballast water can hold organisms ranging from microscopic plankton to small fishes, due to the sheer size of the vessels. Impacts include changing existing species composition, endangering (and possibly extinction) of current species, decreased habitat availability for existing species, and even parasites & diseases.

The Control Measures and its Problems

a Ballast water treatment system: courtesy of optimarine

a Ballast water treatment system: courtesy of optimarine

Thus, in 2004, the Ballast Water Management Convention established standards and regulations aimed at controlling the above-mentioned ballast water and sediments. The Convention consists of guidelines to facilitate its implementation, which paths the way for a responsible usage of our oceans without compromising on our sea-borne trades and other sea-bearing activities.

A main goal of the Convention is this: all vessels should be fitted with an on-board ballast water treatment system by 8 September 2017, failing which they might not be allowed to enter many ports worldwide. This is to ensure that the vessels can manage their ballast water to a certain standard before discharging them into the open sea, limiting the possibility of bio-invasion.

It might sound easy enough, but here’s the current situation: the deadline has been delayed a further 2 years from its initial 8 September 2017 deadline. This is the result of a variety of concerns, of which we will not cover in this post, but we can conclude that implementing such measures are not as easy as one would imagine.

Vessel discharging ballast water

Vessel discharging ballast water

The environmental issue is a pressing one, with undesirable impacts, which explains why the recent compliance delay did not resonate well with environmental groups worldwide. Calgon Carbon said that the delay “could dampen the pace of near-term market development and demand growth for ballast water treatment systems”. However, the other side too have their reasons for supporting the delay. For instance, as per the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the delay “allows shipping companies to identify and invest in far more robust technology to the benefit of the marine environment”.

To complicate matters, the US is not a party of the above Convention. The US Coast Guard has established in 2004 its own set of rules which required all vessels entering the US waters to have the BWTS by 2016. The USCG rules are known to be different and stricter, and along with different testing standards, vessels worldwide now have another problem to think about.

In Conclusion

As they say, Engineers make the world go round, and engineering solutions are needed to tackle the many challenges that the world face today, bringing real value to people in various forms, and turning dreams into reality. Hence, we found out that at times, knowing the background reason of why some engineering works are required in the first place provides us with purpose as to what we do over here in Aries Geomatics.

We hope this could provide some food for thought for everyone connected with the industry and the environment (which just about makes all of us), or for those reading about this for the first time, we hope that this has been an interesting read for you!

See you guys next time!