Breakthrough installations have been completed of a fail-safe ship technology that automatically prevents the negligent or wilful discharge of oil overboard.

A liquefied natural gas carrier and a car carrier, under completion at leading South Korean yards, will be the first ships at sea to feature SmartSafe, the shipping industry’s first working automatic ‘plug and play’ Bilge Overboard Security System to tackle those intent on using ‘magic pipes’ to discharge oil overboard illegally.

Delivered by UK-based oil in water monitoring specialist Rivertrace Engineering, SmartSafe breaks new ground in the detection, recording and prevention of illegal overboard discharges.

The UN Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection estimates that an avoidable 68% of pollution from ships is attributable to deliberate oil discharge. The Paris Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the Tokyo MOU, and the US Coast Guard are running continuing campaigns targeting magic pipes - equipment used to bypass ships' oily water separators, flouting MARPOL73/78 Annex I rules to prevent marine pollution from ships.  Already, these MARPOL regulations have or are being incorporated into regional and national laws that go as far as criminalising accidental oil discharges.

Even shipowners that take pride in ‘green’ credentials, state of the art ships, Sophisticated and expensive oily water separator systems, and well-trained crews, are vulnerable to System failures and incorrect operation or even by-pass. Again, as crew turnover soars, blue chip owners have been exposed to total negligence in OWS operation. In some cases,  fines have run into tens of millions of dollars.

SmartSafe is specifically designed to ensure that the bilge oily water separator cannot be bypassed. The PLC-based system uses Rivertrace in-house written software to monitor the separator system’s diverter valve and flow rate and cumulative flow through the discharge pipe, detecting any attempt to tamper. Available for newbuildings and for retrofit, SmartSafe is compatible with any type of separator and separately controls its own overboard diverter valve.

The system can be connected to a ship’s local area network for monitoring on the bridge, so that the navigation officer can intervene in controlling or stopping discharges.  Tracked over the web via Purplefinder, SmartSafe is capable of remote monitoring and control. Shipowners can track the GPS position of their vessels at any time and ascertain whether a discharge is taking place. They can even stipulate that valves remain closed when a ship passes through a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area.

The system anticipates illegal discharge and, crucially, shuts off the overboard discharge valve if necessary. Should anyone try to tamper with SmartSafe, or shut it down, a spring loaded valve is tripped, forcing the diverter to close. Tamper attempts also result in an alarm being tripped in the owner’s office.

At the end of the discharge process, a batch record is printed containing all aspects of the discharge and any errors or inconsistencies that occurred during the process. A printout stretching back across two years of data can be attached to the manual oil record book for presentation to Port State Control inspectors.

Setting SmartSafe apart from emerging rivals is its graphic ‘replay’ capability, where each start and stop of the oil discharge process creates a secure and unique file. Shipowners using SmartSafe can be assured of PSC compliance, and thus avoid exposure to time delays in port at the hands of PSC. Managing Director of Rivertrace, Mike Coomber, said that the cost of the system could be recouped in the time saved during Port State inspections.

SmartSafe also offers owners new potential to persuade insurers that premiums can be reduced. Moreover, it aids crew confidence in their discharge systems.