Clean and Green Fleet
The fleet of ships transiting the world’s oceans needs to be cleaner.
That statement applies to stack emissions, sewage and garbage disposal, ballast water discharge, as well as ship construction, maintenance and disposal. No one is going to argue that it needs to happen, but there is plenty of argument to go around about how, how fast and who pays to make it all cleaner. That seems like a lot, so I’m going to narrow my focus a little and talk about, you guessed it, biofouling.
The hulls of the fleet of ships transiting the world’s oceans need to be cleaner. This is SO much simpler. Well, maybe it’s a little simpler?!?
Cleaner hulls will use less fuel. Cleaner hulls will carry less biomass from port to port.
Cleaner is a relative term. Studies and reports by the IMO, BIMCO and Safinah Group, among others, have shown the majority of vessels are having their hulls cleaned of macrofouling multiple times during their 5 year drydock cycle. If that’s the current standard, we can do better than that.
Much like oral hygiene and swimming pool maintenance, routine actions to stay ahead of the problem is the way to go. Frequently and gently removing early stage biofouling will ensure that ships are sailing the oceans at a near optimal hull condition and have a minimal amount of growth that can be transported into a new port. If a ship leaves one port clean, it will be extremely close to clean at the next port. Once in that port, perform maintenance resetting the hull to clean and sail to the next. In the lyrics of Phoebe Buffay, lather, rinse, repeat as needed.
So what do we need to make this approach to biofouling management a standard practice? Opportunity, Capability, and Incentive.
I’ll work backwards and hit on Incentive first. Keeping your hull clean of biofouling pays for itself. Simple. There are numerous papers written and other discussions, as well as an informative video from the IMO, that speak to the money that can be saved by reducing fuel usage. I’ll talk about this more in a future post, so I’ll leave it alone for now.
Capability next. The technology exists to efficiently and economically clean a ship of early stage biofouling. Armach’s Hull Service Robot (HSR) and Armach’s EverClean program are available and on the market now. Other companies have their own approaches to the issue. Armach’s approach is unique in that it was designed from the bottom up for efficient removal of early stage biofouling. It’s not a repurposed system, and it’s not capable of removing macrofouling. Again, I’ll talk more about this in the future, and you can learn more through the rest of our website.
So that brings us to Opportunity, which I’m taking to mean being allowed to perform these activities. We need a network of supportive ports worldwide to make this happen. If local regulations prohibit this maintenance from happening, it will reduce the frequency with which a ship can be reset back to a clean condition.
Fortunately, there is significant movement at the international level, and US federal level, to establish guidelines and regulations that permit and encourage the frequent and gentle removal of early stage biofouling. Governing bodies such as the US Environmental Protection Agency are recognizing the benefits of perpetually clean hulls, and the low risks of biofilm and microfouling removal, and are drafting regulations accordingly. They are acknowledging the nuanced differences between gently removing biofilms and removing macrofouling, and the potential impacts of the different activities. This is a crucial and welcome advancement that I look forward to covering in more detail.
But this awareness and mindset needs to continue to carry further down to the local regulatory bodies that have the ability to implement stricter regulations. A port authority might prohibit all hull cleaning activities with the well intentioned goal of taking the best possible care of the local environment. But that may come with negative impacts to the greater worldwide environment – dirtier ships sailing between ports, more biomass being transported as potentially invasive species.
The oceans connects us all. We need to work together, in alignment, to ensure a clean and green fleet sails the ocean.