The University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, is leading the 3.5m project which looks at ways of treating potentially harmful ballast water.
Ships are designed to carry heavy cargoes and can be unstable when empty so they take in water as ballast more than 10 billion tonnes are transported by shipping activities annually.
But discharging ballast water at port is illegal in some countries, as this releases thousands of foreign marine plants and animals into that countrys ecosystem. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) reports that people are falling ill and even dying from introduced marine pathogens.
But discarding the ballast water before entering port can upset a ships balance, and is not a viable solution.
Scientists in the Newcastle University-led project are investigating various ways of treating the ballast water so it can be disposed of at port.