Biofouling attention turns from tank to hull

22 Sep 2017
Could global legislation for hull fouling be on the agenda?

After finally agreeing on a global regime for ballast water management, new research, regional regulation and a multilateral project indicate that the industry is targeting invasive species carried on ship hulls.

A new study into the extent to which biofouling on ships’ hulls is contributing to the spread of invasive aquatic species in the Mediterranean Sea – a phenomenon commonly associated with ship ballasting operations – highlights the extent of the problem.

According to recent research published by Tel Aviv University’s School of Zoology, half the ships passing along the Mediterranean coast of Israel are carrying invasive ascidians, presenting a global threat to ecosystems around the world.

TAU’s Dr. Noa Shenkar, who led the research, said: “These organisms are passing through the Suez Canal, latching onto ropes and the bottom of the ship. They're filter feeders, so they cover and clog every surface they latch onto, creating a lot of drag for the ship and damaging marine biodiversity in their new environments. They're a major threat to our coasts and are very costly to shipowners."

Among the wide occurrence of non-indigenous ascidians (NIA), TAU researchers also discovered a Caribbean species new to the region. The findings, state the authors of the report, “strongly support the hypothesis that marine vessels constitute a substantial vector for the introduction and dispersal of NIAs”.

Subsea Industries’ founder and chairman Boud Van Rompay, said: “The NIA threat is increasing because the antifouling systems in use since the TBT ban have been less effective in eliminating hull fouling. There is currently no miracle cure that will, on its own, prevent the spread of NIAs. The only known way of removing the threat is to clean the fouling organisms off mechanically, which is only possible with a hard-type coating. This ensures the underlying protective coating is not damaged. The industry has to consider taking a different approach to hull protection.”

Hidden and protected

This is a view supported by the research findings. The Monitoring the Magnitude of Marine Vessel Infestation by Non-Indigenous Ascidians in the Mediterranean paper states that “self-polishing hull coatings are ineffective” in controlling biofouling in “hidden and protected” areas.

The research also finds: “The method of rapid high-pressure fresh-water wash fails to provide adequate treatment for removal of invertebrates inhabiting internal hidden areas; especially ascidians, that can survive the dry-docked time outside the water. Of greater concern is that it allows vessels to continue their regular operations and at maximal speed for longer periods; conducting a thorough maintenance procedure every 3–4 years rather than every 1–2 years.”
Commenting on the findings, Van Rompay said: “This research substantiates what we said in January this year; that the entry into force of the Ballast Water Convention will not alone prevent the transfer of invasive aquatic species. There has to be mandatory legislation in place to prevent biofouling on ships’ hulls. Hopefully this research will generate greater awareness of the problem and result in appropriate action.”

Indeed, the IMO has turned its attention to hull fouling – although measures fall short of the mandatory legislation Van Rompay argues for. A new global project to help protect marine ecosystems from the negative effects of invasive aquatic species has been given the go-ahead for preparation.

The GloFouling Partnerships project – a collaboration between the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the IMO – will address the transfer of aquatic species through biofouling caused by the build-up of aquatic organisms on a ship’s underwater hull and structures.

The project will focus on the implementation of the existing IMO guidelines for the control and management of ships’ biofouling, which provide guidance on how biofouling should be controlled and managed to reduce the transfer of invasive aquatic species.

Significant impacts

The IMO noted: “Marine bio-invasions are the source of significant environmental and socioeconomic impacts that can affect fisheries, mariculture, coastal infrastructure and other development efforts, ultimately threatening livelihoods in coastal communities.”

The GloFouling project will build on the success of the GEF-UNDP-IMO GloBallast Partnerships project, which worked to build capacity to implement IMO’s Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention. The BWM treaty addresses the transfer of potentially invasive aquatic species in the ballast water of ships.

The new project will build capacity in developing countries to reduce the transboundary introduction of biofouling-mediated invasive aquatic species. Stefan Micallef, Director, Marine Environment Division, IMO, said: “IMO has been at the forefront of the international effort to tackle the transfer of invasive aquatic species by ships. Addressing ship’s hull fouling is a crucial step to protect marine biodiversity. The treatment of hulls to reduce fouling by aquatic organisms has the additional benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, since the drag of ships is reduced.”

The GEF, UNDP and IMO collaboration has already proved an effective partnership through its three-tier ‘Glo-X’ implementation model for driving legal, policy and institutional reforms, delivering capacity-building activities and encouraging technology transfer through public-private partnerships at the global, regional and national levels. The GloBallast project completed its work thiss year. The ongoing GloMEEP project is aimed at supporting the implementation of energy efficiency measures for shipping.

The GloFouling Partnerships project concept was approved by the GEF Council in May 2017, with a total funding of US$6.9 million earmarked for implementation. The project is now going through a detailed preparation phase to be resubmitted to the GEF for endorsement before implementation can commence. The full name of the new project will be “Building Partnerships to Assist Developing Countries to Minimize the Impacts from Aquatic Biofouling” (GloFouling Partnerships).

The GloFouling project preparation will be undertaken by the IMO Secretariat, which has invited interested Member States to inform the Secretariat of their intention to participate in the new project as soon as possible.

Andrew Hudson, head, UNDP Water & Ocean Governance Programme, said: “GloFouling Partnerships will be an excellent opportunity to help tackle one of the key remaining vectors for the transfer of invasive aquatic species, which cause sizeable impacts on economies and livelihoods. GloFouling was the natural follow up to the GEF-UNDP-IMO GloBallast Partnerships programme which recently concluded after delivering a series of important achievements in reducing the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms through ships’ ballast water”.

Chris Severin, senior environmental specialist from the GEF, said: “The implementation of the GloFouling Partnerships will be instrumental in battling aquatic invasive species, and will not only lead to healthier more robust marine ecosystems, but also positively impact economic opportunities and the livelihoods of millions of people across the globe. I am confident it will be another success in the fruitful partnership between the GEF, UNDP and IMO”.

California regulations

The case for a rapid, global approach to the issue is strengthened by recent developments in California – one of the most progressive of the US states in terms of environmental protection. On 20 April the California State Lands Commission approved its ‘Biofouling Management Regulations to Minimize the Transport of Nonindigenous Species from Vessels Arriving at California Ports’. The biofouling management regulations became effective on 1 October.

Vessels arriving at California ports are already required to remove biofouling from their hulls and other wetted surfaces on a regular basis – defined as the duration of the ship’s safety construction certificate, its USCG certificate of inspection or 60 months since the last dry docking. The new extended provisions will apply to all vessels of over 300gt calling at any California port.

From 1 October the state’s reporting forms for hull husbandry and ballast water management – both its annual and supplemental information forms – will be replaced by a broader marine invasive species program annual vessel reporting form that encompasses both ballast water and hull management.

After a vessel’s first regularly scheduled dry dock after 1 January 2018, or upon delivery for new vessels after that date, further requirements kick in. They include: developing and maintaining a biofouling management plan; developing and maintaining a biofouling record book; mandatory biofouling management of the vessel’s wetted surfaces; and mandatory biofouling management for vessels that undergo an extended residency period (remaining in the same location for 45 or more days).

Although they are based on IMO’s own biofouling guidelines, the mandatory nature of the rules in California go far beyond anything so far envisioned by IMO. But with the long first step of the IMO’s invasive species legislation finally complete – and with new research showing the threat remaining high – IMO legislators may yet turn their attention from ballast water tanks to the hull.