By Alex Binkley

Canadian shipowners have collected $1.5 million for research into a ballast treatment system that would be suitable for their vessels while they hope that Washington and Ottawa will finally come to their senses about the unique conditions of shipping on the Great Lakes. Shipowners created the fund “because the Great Lakes are too small a market to stir interest among companies developing ballast treatment technology in finding a system that will work for us,” Robert Lewis-Manning, President of the Canadian Shipowners Association, said in an interview. “We need to find some sort combination of technologies that will meet the unique situation facing us. We need to do a lot more technical evaluation of the systems that are available.”

The shipowners are hoping to reach an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by the end of May on ballast treatment for their ships, which won’t cripple the commercial viability of their operations. The U.S. Coast Guard has already granted them an exemption until a certified technology is developed.

The conundrum the Canadian owners face can be seen in the decision by Fednav of Montreal, which is not a CSA member, to select a ballast treatment for 12 new ships it has ordered, even though the technology has not been approved by the EPA or USCG. The first ship will arrive in Canada late this year and will make its first voyage through the Seaway in 2016. Marc Gagnon, Fednav’s Director of Government Affairs and Regulatory Compliance, said in an interview the BallastAce system developed by JFE Engineering Corp. of Japan, was selected for the 12 new ships because it’s effective in fresh and salt water. Tests of the chlorine-based system shows it works efficiently in the Great Lakes, he adds. It’s already approved by the International Maritime Organization and JFE has undertaken to have it certified by the U.S. agencies. Fednav is betting it will be, he added.

Fednav has spent millions of dollars during the last four years testing treatment systems, he pointed out. From that work, the company concluded that the chlorine system would kill the pests that might be hiding in a ship’s ballast tanks. “We’re under scrutiny from both the regulators but also the environmental non-governmental organizations.”

In addition to dealing with U.S. regulators, CSA is also trying to convince the Canadian government that supporting an IMO proposal to require all ships to carry a ballast treatment system doesn’t make sense in terms of its domestic fleet. The Canadian government has provided little support to the domestic companies in their battle with EPA. IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention, of which Canada is a signatory, will most likely enter into force in 2016, the year the U.S. Coast Guard and EPA require the installation of systems on ships trading in U.S. waters.

In recent years, Canadian shipowners have ordered more than $700 million in new ships with more likely on the way. However there’s no ballast treatment technology that’s certified to work in both the cold fresh water of the Great Lakes as well as salt water. To curb the entry of additional aquatic nuisance species to the Great Lakes, Canada and the U.S. agreed in 2006 to require ships entering the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes after an ocean voyage to conduct a ballast water exchange at sea. That would kill any pests that might thrive in the Great Lakes. Since then there have been no new ship-caused introductions. The ships were inspected by Canadian and American officials in Montreal before they could proceed.

In 2013, the EPA issued rules requiring any Great Lakes ship sailing beyond Anticosti Island and any ship built post 2009 to have a ballast treatment system on board. It exempted American-flagged ships from the rule, effectively putting the Canadian owners and the Seaway at a competitive disadvantage compared to other transport modes. Canadian shipping lines offer services between the Great Lakes and Canadian and American East Coast ports. CSA supported a court action in 2014 in the United States against the EPA-proposed ballast rules.

“While the Canadian industry has been seeking a solution through testing and evaluation, our membership decided to strengthen this effort with a dedicated program that is aimed at finding a solution that is both operationally and economically feasible for domestic vessels” adds Lewis-Manning. CSA notes that by taking this leadership role it will support a research initiative and collect an evidence base on the operation of ballast water technologies on domestic vessels. “We envision this fund as an initial means of funding specific ballast water research for domestic vessels,” he explains. “We hope that this initiative will pave the way for collaboration with private and public sectors partners in this research and evaluation effort.”