Is biofouling the next ballast water? That was the central theme of a July webinar that saw industry experts discuss the regulatory, commercial and environmental drivers for change in the biofouling sector
Unlike ballast water, which is now governed by strict, albeit contentious regulation that demands expensive solutions across the board, the response to biofouling has been driven by voluntary industry efforts to minimise its effects on ship operation.
But biofouling is now very much the focus of industry attention, in part because of the environmental damage attributed to invasive species, but also because of the pollution that stems from vessel efficiency being compromised by a fouled hull, a point that also has pertinent financial consequences.
Taking up the environmental angle, ES Link Services principal marine consultant John Lewis explained that biofouling species tend to be opportunistic creatures, which colonise newly created or disturbed habitats and which are not good competitors. “As such, a healthy and biodiverse marine ecosystem is quite resilient to invasion,” he said. But when an alien biofouling species does gain a foothold, Mr Lewis said there can be economic impact through this species fouling aquaculture facilities and coastal and offshore infrastructure. Other consequences, he said, included spreading viruses – such as oyster viruses – around the coast and increased encrustation of vessel hulls and clogging of seawater pipework.
Still, he emphasised that the most damaging impact of biofouling involved harmful air emissions. “The impact of roughness on a vessel [hull] increases drag, increases power demand, increases fuel consumption and increases CO2 emissions,” he explained. “This subsequently contributes to climate change, ecosystem change and biodiversity loss.”
He continued “If we compare ballast water and biofouling, the threats and risks are different. For biofouling, the main impact on the environment is from greenhouse gases, while economic damage is incurred by coastal maritime industries and aquaculture.” He said that while biofouling could be tackled with existing, proven solutions, ballast water was a different ball game. “Is biofouling the new ballast water? It may seem so, but the differences are vast.”
On the topic of solutions, Chevron Shipping hull and coatings engineer Johnny Eliasson noted that opportunities still exist for industry to have its say on how best to resolve the issues around biofouling, and to avoid the expensive IMO-mandated approach chosen for ballast water.
“The opportunity is still open to adopt solutions that will deliver the best result while also being cost effective,” he said. Mr Eliasson explained that these might take the form of optimised and ship-specific hull treatment and antifouling solutions or using new technologies to pre-empt damage. “Hull fouling condition monitoring can be achieved using performance data, divers and drones to get a really accurate picture of the state of the hull and to stop small issues growing into big problems,” he said. He also stressed the importance of early hull cleaning in the microfouling stage and the need to avoid late hull cleaning in the macrofouling stage.
Beyond the environmental damage that hull fouling can cause, the cost of running vessels below optimum efficiency is clearly a driver for change. And where costs are involved, it is safe to assume legal guidance will be required.
Reed Smith partner Sally-Ann Underhill said that when it comes to hull fouling, the main issue from a legal standpoint is that it causes delays and impacts performance, so creating speed and performance disputes. As such, owners and charterers have a vested interest in dealing with biofouling insofar as it constitutes hull fouling.
“Most charterparties will require owners to maintain and restore the vessel during the vessel’s service under the charter,” she said. “As regards the impact of hull fouling on the parties to the contract, it is relatively easy if it arises as a result of unlawful orders because then the charters are in breach and they are likely to be liable for any cleaning costs/delays. When it is the result of a lawful order, it is more complex and you have to consider whether it was a risk that the owners took when they entered into the charter.”
Ms Underhill said that in the absence of a speed and performance warranty, the vessel is only required to be capable of performing at the levels stated when entering into the contract. “But if there is a speed and performance warranty, that performance will have to be maintained throughout the charterparty period,” she said.
Ms Underhill also noted that whether a vessel is off hire or not will affect the parties. “Generally, you cannot, as a charterer, give instructions to a vessel which directly cause hull fouling, and then claim that, in consequence of that hull fouling, the vessel is off hire,” she explained.
In many instances, the question will be whether hull fouling is a matter of ordinary wear and tear. “Generally, it is,” said Ms Underhill. “It is something that is deemed to have arisen as a result of the regular use of the vessel. The situation would be different though if there had been some extraordinary use by the charterers.”
Intertanko’s Tim Wilkins moved the conversation onto the subject of regulatory drivers, noting “The introduction of mandatory requirements in New Zealand and, to a lesser extent, California, have certainly focused the minds of a lot of operators.”
Mr Wilkins said the legislation created a distinction between hull management for the purposes of performance and efficiency and hull management for compliance. “When New Zealand introduced that legislation, they seemed to focus on hull management cleaning to improve performance, with the associated environmental benefits; that is a key lesson to take away from that piece of legislation,” he said.
While recognising the similarities between biofouling and ballast water concerns, he stressed that there are clear differences. Noting that solutions already exist, notably anti-fouling systems, he said “Let’s start from that ‘at source’ position and then we can work towards the cleaning solutions that are available when the vessel is in operation.”
An update from the front
Offering an update from the frontline in the battle against biofouling, ECOsubsea chief executive Tor M Østervold has been involved in cleaning 600 vessels to date, recovering some 90,000 kilos of biomass in the process.
A strong advocate of condition-based maintenance, Mr Østervold explained that different cleaning techniques resulted in huge disparities between ship operations. He cited two similar cruise ships on the same trade, employing the same coating, but where the approach to biofouling differed. “One did not require cleaning for three years, while the other had to be cleaned eight times in three months,” he said.
Mr Østervold also explained how biofouling waste could be put to good use once removed from a vessel. “In Southampton the bio-mass waste is being used to fuel bio-gas production, making green electricity for the households around the port.”
In terms of solutions, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science professor, Dr Mario Tamburri made the salient point that while anti-fouling coatings are now very sophisticated, they are not yet perfect. “Otherwise, we would not be having this discussion”.
Existing systems fall into two categories, explained Dr Tamburri: those that remove existing fouling; and those that offer proactive management to prevent the build-up of fouling in the first place.
To date, the focus has largely been on how effective the actual cleaning is, taking an operational approach that is designed to minimise hull inefficiency; the issues of biosecurity environmental water quality have not driven the debate, said Dr Tamburri. “At present, biofouling regulations and solutions are in their early stages; the subject is in a similar place to where ballast water was maybe 15, 20 years ago,” he explained. “There are some very promising technologies and the regulations are evolving, but it is still early days.”
As such, he acknowledged that ballast water could go some way to informing the debate and solutions around biofouling. “There are some valuable lessons that we learnt from ballast water that we can apply to biofouling, including ‘live and viable’ versus ‘dead’ for example. But at present, we really do not need to move away from in-water cleaning without capture. We should try to capture the materials coming off the ship, whether it is the live organisms or biocidal coatings.”
He concluded “We hope that a lot of the testing we are now doing of the science will help inform clear and wise regulations.”