Biofouling demands proactive approach

Biofouling is moving up the agendas of ship owners and operators, with many seeking solutions to tackle the global issue. Industry experts believe a holistic, proactive approach to biofouling is the way forward.

Industry experts seen here participating in the Hull Efficiency session

Improving hull efficiency and reducing environmental impact are two key issues generating much attention within the shipping industry. The increased focus is exacerbated by increasing environmental regulation, including the IMO’s (International Maritime Organisation) goals of reduced carbon emissions from shipping. Biofouling is another issue that is rapidly coming to the fore.

Enter the ShipInsight conference, which provides companies with a forum to share knowledge, best practices, explore new trends and gain an update on regulations, technologies and solutions from a line-up of leading industry experts. The discussion-led event featured keynote addresses and panel discussions under the theme ‘A Global Transition’.

Kicking off the session ‘Smoothing the way to hull efficiency’, Paul Gunton, technical editor ShipInsight and conference chair, said, “Whatever measures are taken to improve performance, it is the interface between hull and water that every efficiency initiative has to cross. Hull design, flow-improving devices, coatings and corrosion control all influence how much of the fuel’s energy is eventually available to move the ship.” 

The opening remarks triggered questions from the audience members, starting with “do paint makers provide the coatings required by ship operators?”

No silver bullet for changing operating profiles  

“I would say, generally speaking, the paint makers do provide the coatings required. The technology and the paints are there. We have, however, experienced some challenges due to changing operating profiles. There is no single solution that works for all the different places of operation,” said Nick Topham, managing director, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement.  

“Also, we need to bear in mind that the charter periods have changed over the years. They were longer in the past so the charterers had an interest also in the paint coatings. Nowadays you’re looking at 6-12 month charters with short extension periods so, from a charterer’s point of view, it’s more short-term. This makes it difficult for us as a manager or owner to sit down with the paint manufacturers and say this is how it is going to be for the charter period,” added Topham.

Acknowledging Topham’s comment, Stein Kjølberg, global concept director at Jotun Hull Performance Solutions said, “Ideally, there should be a coating system that suits all kinds of needs but there is no simple solution since operators have different trades, operation profiles. The paint chemistry is not the only answer. Also, there are factors outside coating tolerance, such as seawater temperature, fluctuating speeds and activity levels that can be encountered for a variety of reasons.”

“From our perspective, coatings are getting better but there is not a perfect coating,” said Simon Doran, managing director of Hullwiper. “It all comes down to trading patterns and idle periods. When there are unpredictable trade and operations, then it’s all bets off.”

Stein Kjølberg

“New technology, regulations, and standards are needed if the shipping industry is to tackle the global issue of biofouling. By taking a holistic, proactive approach the industry stands a better chance of moving more sustainably into the future” – Stein Kjølberg, global concept director, Jotun HPS.

Better guidance needed 

Kjølberg was quick to point out that the technological development of coatings is continuing and there are anti-fouling coatings that can help to prevent fouling, however, he emphasised “operators need better guidance on the potential performance benefits of fouling control for their vessels to make the right coating choices. By adopting proactive performance monitoring, operators can make the right biofouling management decisions for their fleets.”   

Responding to the question, “When is the right time to clean the hull for optimum efficiency?” Kjølberg said, “That will depend on the type of coating system that is used and whether or not it’s tailored to the operator’s specific operational needs. There are systems that last for 5 years and others break down after six months. Our recommendation is to regularly clean the hull and not wait for the fouling to be visible. The earlier you step in and do the cleaning, the better the impact of the anti-fouling. We also recommend that the propeller is cleaned at least twice a year, as that’s the best way to maintain good performance.”  

Proactive cleaning 

Taking a proactive approach to cleaning was also supported by Doran, who made the point that “ship owners tend to polish the propeller every six months, and potentially do an inspection at the same to see if the hull needs cleaning. Personally, I would disagree with this approach and rather recommend that hull cleaning should be done as often as propeller polishing. And as long as you’re using a system that isn’t going to damage the coating, proactive cleaning is better than reactive cleaning. The long-term benefits are much bigger; especially when you bear in mind there’s growing national and regional attention to fouling and environmental issues.”  

“It’s possible to make fouling predictions based on big data trends, analyses, and oceanographic assessment tools,” said Kjølberg and added, “Indeed, just knowing the optimum cleaning intervals can have a significant impact on the operator’s bottom line.” 

Among the questions raised by the conference delegates was one that asked how can we improve the relationship between charterers, ship owners and managers in relation to both hull cleaning intervals and other shipboard operations?  

Integrated information 

“The key challenge is to integrate information from several sources into one platform,” opined Topham. “Today, the owners, charterers, and managers may use their own systems so there are three different data sets that are used in different ways. We need to agree on which means we are going to monitor the performance of the vessel, so it’s done in a smart, efficient way. We need to get all the parties together and agree on when and how we are going to take measures to improve performance, including hull and propeller cleaning. 

“I’ve seen charter parties saying the hull should be cleaned every six months but what’s the rationale? Also, we get figures from service providers that we can save 2.5 to 3% if we clean the propeller now, but it’s unclear on what basis the figures have been reached. There are many external influences so there’s a need for accurate and transparent prediction approaches,” added Topham.  

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) promises to have a continuing impact on vessel design and operation according to panellist Inno Gatin, consultant engineer at Wikki, who said CFD enables efficient evaluation of the costs and benefits of alternative biofouling control strategies. 

Barriers to adopting new technologies 

Asked to comment on innovation developments, Gatin said there are challenges in bringing new technologies to shipping. “Ship owners are normally very careful about spending money on new technologies, especially in the tough economic climate, which makes it even harder to get funding. Also, there is a need for a regulatory framework that supports owners in making decisions to opt for new technological solutions.”  

“The shipping industry is becoming more complex and challenging, but the challenges could be overcome by regulations that encourage innovation and incentives,” said Kjølberg. “Operators are being forced to achieve greater efficiency and transparency, and some countries have already introduced biofouling regulations.  

Call for incentives 

“At the same time, there are few incentives for early adopters willing to embrace new technologies. On the contrary, there’s an increasing risk of penalties and detentions for non-compliance. There should be financial incentives such as discounts in connection with port, class, and insurance fees or improved commercial pool points relating to efficiency ratings to encourage the take-up of new technologies and performance enhancing systems. Standards, such as ISO 19030, can also be used for transparent monitoring and reporting,” added Kjølberg. 

“New technology, regulations, and standards are needed if the shipping industry is to tackle the global issue of biofouling,” said Kjølberg and concluded, “By taking a holistic, proactive approach the industry stands a better chance of moving more sustainably into the future.” 

The ShipInsight conference attracted more than 100 attendees over the two-day gathering in London and focused on technology, regulation, and sustainability topics relevant to commercial shipping.