PortPIC adding value to biofouling debate

Biofouling management and in-water cleaning and inspection is becoming an increasingly important topic for the shipping world. Demand for more efficient ships and better environmental performance are powerful drivers that combine commercial benefits as well as compliance with ever more stringent regulation. But there is a need for more collaboration and action to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead, argue industry stakeholders at the recent PortPIC conference.

A ship clear of biofouling is not only cheaper to operate it also makes it easier to comply with upcoming efficiency regulations, and to meet the new IMO biofouling guidelines due in 2023. This comes at a time when nations and ports are beginning to apply sanctions on badly fouled ships but sometimes are reluctant to permit cleaning operations to take place because they have the potential to exacerbate the problem of aquatic invasive species (AIS).

As Volker Bertram of DNV and organiser of the 3rd PortPIC Conference notes, “There is general agreement that hull cleaning is necessary, both in terms of reducing shipping’s carbon footprint and prevent the spread of AIS. The NIMBY (not in my backyard) mindset of more and more ports frustrates the shipping community but has some good points on its side – at least when we look at the common cleaning practices of the past. With PortPIC, we want to provide a place where different stakeholders discuss developments and see the newest innovations in this area, share their perspectives, and hopefully find some common points of agreement.”

The third PortPIC conference, sponsored by Jotun and other industry backers, was held over two days in Hamburg following SMM. It brought together relevant stakeholders from across the board including, ports, coatings manufacturers, cleaning service providers, ship operators and maritime research institutes. During the conference more than 20 papers were presented in the eight sessions.

One of the papers was by BIMCO’s Aron Sørensen which takes a detailed look into the results of   BIMCO’s survey on hull cleaning practices employed by its members. The result of the survey had earlier been presented to the IMO as BIMCO presses the argument that updated IMO guidelines on biofouling management should take the existing infrastructure and practices of the shipping industry into consideration.

Business as usual not an option

A common theme that ran throughout the conference was that business as usual was not an option, but more collaboration and action was needed to meet impending environmental regulations, including the IMO’s carbon intensity index (CII) that from 2023 will begin to impact all ships not just newbuildings.

Another recurring theme was that there is a lack of standards and although cleaning technology is improving at an accelerating rate, the speed of advancement could be improved if a common approach towards a defined target was implemented.

There was also general agreement that the patchwork of regulations and policies globally creates a complex regulatory landscape for shipowners seeking to manage biofouling proactively. That may be improved by the revision of the IMO biofouling guidelines but even that could be put in jeopardy as countries continue to enact local regulations that impose different requirements.

A number of papers including those by John Polglaze (PGM Environment), Jasper Cornelis (representing the Port of Antwerp-Bruges and a consortium of Flemish ports) and Katja von Bargen (Bremen Ports) communicated their positions and requirements, and the need to establish best practices. So too did Geir Axel Oftedahl (Semcon) who presented a paper on in-water proactive cleaning. The co-authored paper by Semcon, Bellona and Jotun outlines the motivations for multi-stakeholders to adopt proactive hull cleaning to help achieve greener shipping.

Call for standardisation

Runa Skarbø (Bellona) presented a paper on the Clean Hull Initiative to develop an ISO standard. The initiative, supported by Jotun and other industry stakeholders, was launched at Nor-Shipping earlier this year and the proposal for the standard will be submitted to ISO next month. Official working groups will be formed in January 2023 to develop the standard.

Skarbø highlighted the cleaning industry may have several established and experienced players but is still in the early phase of technologies, and there is a large variety of solutions and approaches. She believes, “standardisation will level the playing field, ensure quality is delivered to ship operating customers and spur further innovation in the cleaning industry.”

“As different stakeholders have different interests, it is not surprising that initial proposals for guidelines or regulations differ also in how lenient or strict the recommended procedures are,” commented Bertram and added, “practicalities in shipping and high environmental expectations lead to many square-the-circle scenarios in the detailed discussion. It will take a while to find suitable compromises, communicate and implement upcoming guidelines and standards, but at least the process has started.”

Robotic cleaning and inspection set to play a bigger role

With the focus of PortPiC being on in-water cleaning it should be no surprise that several papers were from companies active in this field. Manual cleaning by divers is still widely practiced and in many parts of the world the only option for a shipowner seeking to clean its vessels. However, it was generally agreed that underwater robotic cleaning and inspection is set to play a bigger role as owners and operators look for innovative ways to reduce operational costs and emissions.

Among the organisations presenting their robotic cleaning and inspection solutions, were HullWiper and Armach Robotics. Their presentations centred on evolving technologies and also the potential for autonomous robots undertaking proactive and frequent cleaning of ships’ hulls. Forum panellists also spoke on the development of robotic cleaning and noted how solutions are advancing worldwide and the shipping community needs to keep updated on the limitations and capabilities of emerging cleaning and inspection solutions.

In separate sessions, Johnny Eliasson (Chevron Shipping) focused on global biofouling tracking of ships, while Kristina Kern-Nielsen (Litehauz) shared her views on “the dilemma to clean or not to clean” and Tor Østervold (ECOsubsea) called for “more discussion and action, not just regarding technical issues but also on stakeholder relations and contractual and regulatory frameworks.”       

More collaboration and action needed

Concluding the conference, Bertram said, “Nobody denies the challenges involved in sustainable hull management; in fact, the community is increasingly aware that the challenges are bigger than most of us thought a decade ago. But just lamenting the state of the world from one’s individual perspective has never been a convincing strategy. Nor has been trying to sit things out, hoping that somehow the problems will just go away. We need more action and collaboration, and we hope that PortPIC can help the industry tackle the challenge.”

That sentiment was echoed by several of the attendees.  Simon Doran (HullWiper) also said that the conference was useful and informative, and he hoped that more port authorities will become involved in the future. Both Doran and Skarbø along with Karl Lander (Armach Robotics) referred to the complexity of the problem with Skarbø saying there is no silver bullet, and a toolbox of solutions is needed. Doran added suppliers are still looking to produce the unicorn of ROV cleaning and inspection units and Lander summed it up saying, “We agree on the problem and the need for solutions. We may see different paths for those solutions. We may debate those solutions. But at the end of the day, we're all moving in the right direction.”

“Sustained dialogue between the industry stakeholders is important and necessary,” said Jotun’s Morten Sten Johansen and concluded, “We are all looking forward to the 4th PortPIC next year and hope that it would continue to grow with even more shipowners and port bodies adding their insights and experiences to help overcome the challenges of biofouling.”

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