There is currently no common global standard for cleaning ships’ hulls to avoid transferring invasive aquatic species. BIMCO’s head of marine environment Aron Sørensen believes there is a case for one
Every time one of the world’s 80,000 large merchant ships calls at a port, it brings foreign aquatic species on the submerged parts of the ship, also known as fouling. In Australia alone, around 30,000 commercial port calls are carried out every year and if their hulls are not reasonably clean, organisms can move from one continent to another, transferring invasive species between marine environments and potentially harming local aquatic ecosystems. The organisms growing on the hull also increase drag and reduce the fuel efficiency of the ship by as much as 35%, leading to higher fuel bills and more CO2 emissions.
To ensure hull cleaning can be carried out in a safe and environmentally sustainable way in the future, a global standard is essential. The new in-water cleaning standard puts great emphasis on capturing what is removed from the ship, thereby ensuring the marine environment is not negatively affected. BIMCO believes a global standard will create much-needed transparency along with economic and environmental benefits for shipowners, ports, port authorities and in-water cleaning companies.
It is imperative the cleaning can be done ’in-water’, as there is limited availability of drydocks for very large ships, for example carrying iron ore or crude oil. 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 greenhouse gas emissions, which can be avoided if cleaning is done in-situ.
For shipowners, the lack of a common set of global rules creates economic and administrative headaches. Countries such as Australia and New Zealand, as well as regions such as Hawaii and California, have already implemented regulations on biofouling on ships arriving in their waters, or are in the process of doing so, as some of the first. But without a clear, international standard for cleaning, ports will have difficulty identifying which companies clean the ship hulls sufficiently and collect the debris washed off the ship to a satisfactory standard. And the same goes for shipowners.
If there are no global standards, the shipowner has no reference point to 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.
Lives at risk
There are additional benefits of a global standard:
BIMCO’s aim is to make a standard that is acknowledged by IMO and to this end, it 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 to conduct practical tests of the standard with a hull cleaning company and a shipowner, which is scheduled to take place during 2020.
An approval standard will address minimum requirements on approving in-water cleaners based on testing verified by accredited laboratories and certificates issued by internationally recognised classification societies. A certificate based on an approval will show the equipment and the procedures of in-water cleaners of good quality.
The approval standard is still under development and ultimately, BIMCO will ask IMO for adoption of the standard. Such a process would take two to three years.
Aron Sørensen is an expert on maritime digitalisation, maritime cyber security, safety and environmental regulation and a number of other technical topics within the maritime sector. Mr Sørensen has been with BIMCO since 2008. Previously, he was a senior navigator and a consultant at the Danish Maritime Authority among other positions. He has a degree as a navigator as well as an advanced degree in supply chain management.