New Technology Requires New Thinking and New Rules

March 30, 2023

I was attending a port authority summit in Washington DC, and the keynote speaker was a retired USMC Lieutenant General who spoke on technology. He started off with a story that I probably won’t do justice to, but I need to share. He talked about lancers in World War I. Lancers were soldiers on horseback carrying really long spears. Check out the photo:

WW1 Lancer

….it’s a guy on horseback, carrying a spear. Dude’s wearing a gas mask, and carrying a rifle – to enter a battlefield that has machine guns, tanks and airplanes. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that this probably wasn’t a great idea, and in real time, the role of cavalry forces quickly shifted away from mounted charges against opposition forces. His superiors knew the game was changing, and partially adapted. But they still tried the old ways, with unfortunate results.

What does this have to do with hull cleaning? Well, first I don’t recommend using horses. But seriously, the technology to address biofouling on ship hulls is changing, and the thinking and regulations that relate to hull cleaning and biofouling management need to adapt as well. 

Hull cleaning hasn’t changed all that much over the years. There have been a variety of approaches taken to try to limit fouling via the hull coating (copper sheathing, biocidal paint, fouling release paint among others), and when those are no longer effective, someone comes along and scrubs the bejesus out of the hull to get rid of the barnacles and other growth, and unfortunately, also some of the paint. If you did this in the water, that’s a lot of nasty stuff getting dumped into the water, and no port wants that. And so rules were written to account for that technology. 

Well, technology is changing. More rapidly than ever before. And the rules and regulations need to account for that. The need to clean hulls has never been more apparent. Fouled hulls result in increased greenhouse gas emissions, increased fuel usage, and transport of potentially invasive species. But, we can clean hulls with far less risk of pollution. We can clean hulls more economically with robotic systems. Large debris can be removed with less risk to the paint and can be captured. UV light and lasers are being considered to render biofouling inert. 

We need rules that can account for all of this. We need rules that give us a workable framework to address the next great idea for biofouling removal. And we need rules that recognize that doing nothing about biofouling can be worse for your waters than taking action.

Fortunately, more standards are being developed to tackle the complexities of the issues. The IMO will be reviewing draft biofouling management guidelines next month at the Subcommittee for Pollution Prevention and Response. BIMCO published the Industry standard on in-water cleaning with capture. An ISO Standard for proactive in-water cleaning has just begun its development cycle. The US EPA has published its proposed update to the Vessel General Permit, with clear recommendations for shipping to proactively keep their hulls clean. An AMPP Standard for biofouling assessment via robots was initiated. These are great, and Armach is engaged on the developments, and we are optimistic about the way ahead.

But we need these standards to be accepted and adopted to the widest extent possible. Participation across the industry is necessary; shipowners, charterers, maintainers, coating companies, ports and cleaning companies all have a stake in this, and can all contribute. A fleet of clean ships sailing the oceans benefits us all.

If you have any questions on any of these standards or are interested in participating, please reach out and I can help you get involved.