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Wednesday, May 27, 2020 

BIMCO says it is moving a step closer to finishing a set of guidelines needed to protect the marine environment from invasive species and reduce CO2 emissions, as currently there is neither a global standard for cleaning ships’ hulls to avoid transferring invasive aquatic species, nor for dealing with the potentially damaging debris washed off in the process.

According to BIMCO, every time one of the world’s 80,000 large merchant ships calls at a port, it brings foreign aquatic species on the submerged parts of the ship, carried via hull fouling. If hulls are not clean, organisms can easily move between continents, transferring invasive species between marine environments and potentially harming local ecosystems. Hull fouling increases drag and reduces fuel efficiency of the ship by as much as 35%, leading to higher fuel bills and more CO2 emissions. To ensure that hull cleaning can be carried out in a safe and environmentally sustainable way in the future, a global standard is essential.

Aron Sørensen, BIMCO Head of Marine Environment, said: "The new in-water cleaning standard puts great emphasis on capturing what is removed from the ship, thereby ensuring that the marine environment is not negatively affected. We believe that a global standard will create much needed transparency along with economic and environmental benefits for shipowners, ports, port authorities and in-water cleaning companies.”

Sørensen emphasises that it is imperative that the cleaning can be done “in-water”, as there is limited availability of dry docks for very large ships. In addition, the cost to deviate to docks in Asia and unload the ship is extremely high and the added trip to drydock adds to GHG emissions, which can be avoided if cleaning is done in-situ. 

For shipowners, the lack of a common set of global rules creates economic and administrative headaches. Countries like Australia and New Zealand, as well as regions such as Hawaii and California, have already implemented regulation on biofouling on ships arriving in their waters, or are in the process of doing so. Without a clear, international standard for cleaning, ports will have difficulty identifying which companies clean the ship hulls sufficiently and collect the debris that is washed off the ship to a satisfactory standard.

“If you don’t have global standards, the shipowner can’t know if a supplier in one country – the in-water cleaning company – has done a good job. Furthermore, the port authorities lack a common method to evaluate in-water cleaning companies,” said Sørensen. 

A global standard will:

  • ensure materials removed from the ship are collected, and thus reduce pollution from heavy metals and paint flakes released during underwater cleaning
  • reduce the risk to divers cleaning the hulls, and
  • maintain the performance of the anti-fouling systems.

BIMCO’s aim is to make a standard that can be acknowledged by the IMO. The next step is practical tests of the standard done with a hull cleaning company and a shipowner, which is scheduled to take place during 2020.

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