BIMCO: 1st global standard for hull cleaning essential

To ensure that hull cleaning can be carried out in a safe and environmentally sustainable way in the future, a global standard is essential, BIMCO, the world’s largest shipping association, believes.

Image by NAVINGO

Biofouling, which is the accumulation of various aquatic organisms on ships’ hulls, is gaining increasing importance on the global scene.

Apart from impacting ships’ efficiency and fuel consumption, biofouling has been one of the key causes of the transfer of invasive aquatic species by ships.

The problem of invasive species carried by ships has intensified over the last few decades due to the expanded trade and traffic volume.

Today there are more than 80,000 large merchant ships in the world, which need their hulls to be cleaned every two years – depending on where in the world it trades.

BIMCO has already developed international standards for hull cleaning and a certification to ensure a certain quality level of the process.

However, the association’s aim is to make a standard that is acknowledged by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

BIMCO said that it has moved a step closer to finishing a global set of guidelines needed to protect the marine environment from invasive species and reduce CO2 emissions.

The standard addresses cleaning of the hull as well as niche areas, such as bow thrusters and propeller shafts.

Aron Sørensen, BIMCO’s Head of Marine Environment, heads a working group that consists of shipowners, paint manufacturers and hull cleaning companies.

The group recently sent the first draft of the cleaning standard to a reference group that includes scientists and government regulators. The next step is practical tests of the standard done with a hull cleaning company and a shipowner, which is scheduled to take place during 2020.

“At the stage we are now, we need to engage with industry experts, governments, scientists and port authorities before we finalize the in-water cleaning standard,” Sørensen says.

According to Sørensen, it is imperative that the cleaning can be done “in-water”, as there is limited availability of dry docks for very large ships, for example carrying iron ore or crude oil.

“The new in-water cleaning standard puts great emphasis on capturing what is removed from the ship, thereby ensuring that the marine environment is not negatively affected. We believe that a global standard will create much-needed transparency along with economic and environmental benefits for shipowners, ports, port authorities and in-water cleaning companies,” he said.

In addition, the cost to deviate to docks in Asia and unload the ship is extremely high and the added trip to drydock adds to GHG emissions, which can be avoided if cleaning is done in-situ.

Currently, there is no common global standard for cleaning ships’ hulls to avoid transferring invasive aquatic species, nor for the potentially damaging debris washed off in the process.

For shipowners, the lack of a common set of global rules creates economic and administrative headaches.

Countries like Australia and New Zealand, as well as regions such as Hawaii and California, have already implemented regulation on biofouling on ships arriving in their waters, or are in the process of doing so, as some of the first, BIMCO said.

“If you don’t have global standards, the shipowner can’t know if a supplier in one country – the in-water cleaning company – has done a good job. Furthermore, the port authorities lack a common method to evaluate in-water cleaning companies,” Sørensen says.

An approval standard will address minimum requirements on approving in-water cleaners based on testing verified by accredited laboratories and certificates issued by internationally recognized classification societies.

A certificate-based on an approval will show that the equipment and the procedures of in-water cleaners of good quality, BIMCO said.

The approval standard is still under development and ultimately, BIMCO plans to ask IMO for adoption of the standard. Such a process would take two to three years.

BIMCO explained that additional benefits of having a global standard, would be reducing the pollution from heavy metals and paint flakes released into the ocean during underwater cleaning as materials removed from the ships’ hulls would be collected, reducing the risk to divers cleaning the hulls and maintaining the performance of the anti-fouling systems.

Commercial diving is comparatively dangerous. In the UK, the fatality rate for commercial divers, according to figures published in 2010 by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), ranges from 20 to 40 per 100,000. This risk factor is 12.3 to 24.7 times higher than that of the construction sector.