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Innovation and collaboration key to addressing in-water cleaning issues

Industry stakeholders at PortPIC stress importance of more innovation, collaboration and aligned initiatives to shape sustainable solutions for in-water cleaning.

This was the main message from the inaugural In-Port Inspection & Cleaning Conference (PortPIC) held last week, organized by Jotun and DNV GL.

In his opening address, Geir Axel Oftedahl, business development director, Jotun Marine Coatings raised the issue of biofouling and emphasized, “There’s an increasing focus on biofouling and environmental regulations will only get tougher”. He urged all stakeholders to take action. “The economic and environmental impact of fouling,  combined with the stringent regulations, are likely to drive up the demand for effective and innovative hull coatings and performance monitoring systems, as well as the deployment of advanced cleaning and inspection methods as the authorities become increasingly sensitive to biosecurity risks.” 

Oftedahl’s message centered on taking a holistic, collective approach to improving in-water cleaning practices. “An increasing number of companies and organizations are developing new technologies and solutions. This is very encouraging, however, we believe all stakeholders should try to find common agreement on best practices and standards and that these are adopted as widely as possible. A joined-up approach will benefit the industry and have an enormous impact in the battle against biofouling.”

Jotun’s Geir Axel Oftedahl advocates a proactive holistic approach to improving in-water cleaning practices.

“The message to ship operators is simple” said Volker Bertram, senior project manager, DNV GL Maritime, “They should clean ship hulls and propellers more frequently”. But he recognized that “with current cleaning technology and standard antifouling paints, frequent cleaning may lead to premature depletion of the paints and subsequent loss of protection. In addition, biocides, paint particles and biofouling may be released into the environment. Hence the many port authorities around the world no longer allow in-water cleaning.”  

“Any solution to the current dilemma will require change – change in technology, change in business practice, change in legislation. A big first step is bringing the various stakeholders together: ship owners and operators, port managers, coating and cleaning providers, researchers and legislators, each with their own perspective. By pooling the expertise, a larger picture evolves, and the perception of issues and possible solutions is sharpened. And that’s why we have taken the initiative to establish PortPIC,” added Oftedahl. 

As the issue of biofouling risk and in-water cleaning increases in importance, there is no lack of leadership as industry leading companies and organizations are taking initiatives to support customers and industry.  

Startling innovation  

Earlier this year, Jotun introduced its new Jotun Hull Skating Solutions. Developed in partnership with technology and shipping partners, the fouling-prevention system is an innovative and sustainable means to help ship operators maintain always clean hulls in the most challenging operations. A primary component of the new solution is the onboard Jotun HullSkater, the first robotic technology that has been purposed designed for proactive cleaning. In combination with advanced antifouling and associated services, the new solution will help ship operators combat early stage fouling, significantly reducing fuel costs, greenhouse gas emissions and the spread of invasive species, pointed out Oftedahl.   

Expanding on the proactive cleaning approach, Oftedahl said, “The method most operators use to clean their hulls has not changed over the years. And while traditional, reactive cleaning is useful, this time-honored approach is not optimal since cleaning often occurs long after the fouling has attached to the hull surface. So there is also a need for proactive solutions to ensure the early removal of hull fouling before it becomes a problem. That was our starting point in the conception of Jotun Hull Skating Solutions – a desire to create a definitive solution to this pressing issue, one that wouldn’t just deal with the problem, but rather prevent it.” 

Simon Doran, managing director of HullWiper, firmly believes underwater robotic cleaning is set to play a bigger role to combat fouling issues. “We’ve seen alternative approaches introduced, including the use of Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) hull cleaning, which is becoming widely available. This is not surprising since greater regulation is seeing more and more ports prohibiting traditional hull cleaning or restricting divers to daylight hours only and this is influencing the development of alternatives hull cleaning methods. 

“ROVs are a cost-effective and environmentally friendly option. They collect pollutants removed from the vessel’s submerged areas for disposal in an environmentally approved and eco-friendly manner onshore. Because no divers are used, they can clean ships during bunker delivery or cargo loading/discharging cargo operations, saving valuable time for vessels. An ROV with a fouling collection system may be granted permission to clean vessels in ports where traditional cleaning is prohibited,” added Doran. 

Change is underway  

ROVs and new technologies were the focus of the forum session on Day 1 of the conference. The technologies are there but widespread uptake will take time was the general consensus. It was also acknowledged that change is underway as the traditional practice presents a range of challenges including safety concerns, damage to coatings and limitations in cleaning locations because of increased environmental restrictions on hull cleaning.    

“We can expect new combinations of technologies coming together for in-water inspection and cleaning. Foremost, robotic cleaning has seen stellar growth over the past decade, with industry-mature applications appearing and competing in various countries. But do they match the today’s coating technology? And are regulators and port authorities up to date on the technology?” questioned DNV GL’s Volker Bertram. 

“In short, the answer is the time-honored ‘it is complicated’. Cleaning technology needs to be matched to the coating on ships, aligned with environmental policies imposed by ports, with affordable and feasible solutions. There is wide consensus that this can be reached, but the devil lurks in the detail, and international, multi-disciplinary solutions have always required time and cross-fertilization to come to fruition. Jotun’s Hull Skating Solutions may be an indication of what a ‘revhullutionary’ future may hold,” opined Bertram.  

Meanwhile, Sonihull’s Darren Jones stressed how a proactive holistic approach in planning and operating in line with the direction of IMO Biofouling Guidelines and utilizing next generation and greener technologies can benefit, rather than hamper the industry. “The issue of biofouling is clearly a complex one and no one technology on its own is the solution. A fundamental and material change in market and technological cooperation is required in the marine industry in order to respond to the challenges biofouling brings,” argued Jones and added, “It’s imperative that operators and ports insist on cooperative working across technology providers, coatings companies, ultrasonic systems OEMs, cleaners and others. Demand side will dictate the behaviours of supply side.”   

New regulations on the horizon   

Certainly, the growing concern around biofouling and invasive species at IMO and national levels is focusing consideration on hull cleaning and has led to more owners and operators re-thinking their current coating and cleaning strategies. With stricter regulations on the horizon, they will need to document and record what hull management measures they have taken to bring more transparency towards port authorities and other stakeholders, including charterers. 

Representatives from the Flemish ports (Zeebrugge, Antwerp, North Sea Port, Flanders) also gave an update on the development of their underwater cleaning policies. “Sustainability is becoming ever more important therefore we welcome companies which develop new technologies that contribute to more environmentally friendly shipping,” said Jasper Cornelis, Port of Zeebrugge.  

“Last summer, a joint policy on underwater cleaning in the Flemish ports was launched in the three partner ports. It concerns both hull cleaning and propeller polishing. The uniform framework ensures that market players are assessed in an equal manner, with equal requirements, like test procedures and acceptance criteria. Each test procedure consists of an ‘ex situ test’ (under laboratory conditions) and an ‘in situ test’ (on a ship in dock water) in which different criteria are tested.  Once the acceptance criteria are reached, installation-specific licences can be granted which are valid in the three Flemish ports,” explained Cornelis, together with Luc Van Espen, Antwerp Port Authority. 

Since the start of the joint policy, three companies have obtained a licence for propeller polishing operations and two companies for hull cleaning operations.  “Through this project, which continues to evolve due to new insights, the Flemish ports are making their contribution to a greener future, both for the climate and for the bio-marine environment. We are hoping for an international policy to convince everyone of the opportunities of these new techniques and the possible gains they will bring, for example, in terms of ships fuel consumption (up to 15% less), without compromising the marine environment in the ports where they get underwater cleaned,” added Karen Polfliet, North Sea  Port Flanders Authority.  

Guidelines and standards for in-water cleaning  

For shipowners, the need is for development of best practices and standards for improved in-water cleaning along with some uniformity in regulation. “Biofouling is the next big challenge for the industry,” said Aron Frank Sørensen, head of marine environment, BIMCO. “There is a definite need for an in-water cleaning standard with capture because the results of cleanings by companies vary, and the quality needs to be improved. Also, in-water cleaning is only allowed in a few locations around the world and there’s an increasing tendency for coastal and port states to have rules which prohibits it. With this in mind, we have developed the standard together with industry stakeholders and we strongly believe the industry will gain from it.” 

The standard includes detailed procedures for the planning and execution of in-water cleaning with capture said Sørensen and emphasized “in-water cleaning is an important part of the ship’s biofouling management process. The standard introduces an approval process for cleaning companies to ensure that a cleaning is carried out safely and in an environmentally sustainable manner.”  

In addition to the BIMCO standard, a number of international collaborations are working on guidelines and standards for hull cleaning, including NACE, ACT/MERC and the IMarEST. A guideline specifically for proactive cleaning has also been developed by Jotun with support from industry stakeholders. Also, the IMO took another step towards biofouling controls when it led the establishment of the GloFouling Partnership project last year. 

Call for alignment    

Looking towards the future, most participants agreed that the need is now to work towards the alignment of standards and regulations that the owners say is so vital. “With many international regulators working on the introduction of new regulations, it is hoped that the input from industry stakeholders will positively affect the hull cleaning industry. At the same time, various organizations have started on tackling partial aspects of in-water cleaning and aligning these initiatives will be important to avoid similar, but disparate guidelines or policies,” warned Oftedahl.   

Picking up on that and the mood of collaboration that was apparent throughout PortPIC, Bertram suggested that it would be through such initiatives that progress will be made. “In-water cleaning touches on many disciplines, including marine biology, robotics, naval architecture, chemistry, commercial contracts, international law and regulations to name a few. Interdisciplinary platforms and forums like PortPIC are needed to enhance knowledge transfer and get the kind of international and interdisciplinary cooperation required to shape sustainable solutions for in-water cleaning,” he concluded. 

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The In-Port Inspection & Cleaning Conference (PortPIC) is a new platform for in depth, cross-discipline talks about how to improve the quality and safety of in-water cleaning.  

Driven by Jotun and DNV GL, the conference is community-like and provides an opportunity for industry experts and practitioners to discuss and share advances, challenges and opportunities in this important field.  

The two-day conference was held in Hamburg 14-15th September, and was organized around the theme “ In-water cleaning – Yes, but how and where? ” and covered subjects as varied as technology developments and solutions, environmental regulations, port policies, and cleaning guidelines and standards.  

The response to the first PortPIC has been very good, despite the handicap of Covid-19. Over 50 industry stakeholders participated in the conference, which had a workshop character with experts from overseas joining virtually via video presentations. 

By establishing PortPIC, Jotun, DNV GL and supporting sponsors are working together to take a proactive role in shaping sustainable solutions for in-water cleaning.    
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According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), poor hull and propeller performance is  currently estimated to account for around 9% of the world’s fleet energy costs and corresponding greenhouse gas emissions. This translates to about USD 10 billion in additional fuel costs for the world fleet, every year. Fouling also contributes to the transfer of invasive aquatic species between different environments. 

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