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‘Magic pipe’ discharge breakthrough

30 November 2015

An LNG carrier and a car carrier, both currently under construction at leading South Korean yards, will be the first ships launched that feature SmartSafe.

SmartSafe Bilge Overboard Security System

SmartSafe Bilge Overboard Security System

As the shipping industry’s first working automatic plug-and-play Bilge Overboard Security System, SmartSafe will target individuals attempting to use ‘magic pipes’ to discharge oil overboard illegally.

The UN Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection estimates that 68% of the avoidable pollution from ships can be attributed to deliberate oil discharge. The Paris Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the Tokyo MOU, and the US Coast Guard are each running campaigns targeting the so-called ‘magic pipes’: equipment used to bypass ships' oily water separators. These actions flout the MARPOL73/78 Annex I rules in place to prevent marine pollution from ships. These MARPOL regulations have or are being incorporated into regional and national laws that seek to criminalise ‘accidental’ oil discharges.

Even shipowners that take pride in their ‘green’ credentials, state-of-the-art vessels, sophisticated and expensive oily water separator systems, and well-trained crews are vulnerable to system failures and incorrect operation or even by-pass. As crew turnover soars, blue chip owners have been exposed to total negligence claims for their OWS operations, with fines totalling 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’s proprietary software to monitor the separator system’s diverter valve, as well as flow rate and cumulative flow through the discharge pipe, detecting any attempt at tampering. Available for new-builds and retrofit applications, SmartSafe is compatible with any type of separator and has independent control of 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 GPS, 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 attempt to tamper with SmartSafe, or shut it down, a spring-loaded valve is tripped that forces 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, along with 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, avoiding 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 the opportunity to persuade insurers that premiums can be reduced. It also increases the crew’s confidence in their discharge systems. 

For further information, please call Rivertrace’s Sales Department  on +44 (0) 1737 775500 or email