No sector of the ship equipment and services is unaffected by the slowdown in shipbuilding activity but arguably the coatings sector is one that might perhaps be least troubled. As any seafarer or ship operator knows, painting a ship is not a one-off event but is repeated at almost every drydocking and running repairs are needed between drydockings as well.
Even as the level of newbuilding falls, the ships delivered in the boom years are due for their first or second periodic surveys and will be in drydock and being given a new coating. Thus, coating manufacturers are assured of regular business even if other equipment suppliers are facing hard times. Al of which is good news for both the makers and shipowners who rely on the performance boost that fresh coatings can provide.
The importance of anti-fouling coatings in ship operations has always been recognised although in recent years it has moved up the scale as interest in efficient ships has grown. It is somewhat ironic that probably the most efficient form of anti-fouling – Tributyltin or TBT – has been banned because of its adverse effect on marine organisms. However, that was the spur for the leading manufacturers to undertake an intense period of research and development that has resulted in several new technologies and a greater interest in the performance of new products.
Performance has traditionally been difficult to accurately determine with the makers’ claims for efficiency and longevity often not reconcilable with what shipowners were experiencing under operational conditions. Since early 2017 there has been an ISO standard (ISO 19030) against which it is planned to be able to monitor and accurately assess whether the hull and propeller perform as claimed.
Most coating suppliers have marked the advent of ISO 19030 as a major step, but it is yet too early to judge if this view is shared by shipowners. A number of those that ShipInsight have spoken to have said that the cost of equipping the ship with the necessary sensors and software and managing data collection and the real time adjustments needed to the operating parameters of the vessel will negate any benefit. Some have even said that proving a coating is not meeting the claims made for it has been made deliberately difficult.
There are others with different views who have allowed the cost savings figures that they put down to applying performance monitoring and measures to be used in support of the new standard. The truth and the costs saved are probably somewhere between the two extremes. It is only when sufficient data has been collected and number crunched that the true facts will emerge and that is a few years away at the present. It is something that the industry will watch with interest.
A new issue to worry about
Most shipowners will accept that anti-fouling coatings and operational measures combine to affect efficiency and they will make choices mostly based on their own experience of different products. So far this has always been an issue that is between the shipowner, the coating supplier and the contractor which applied it. Aside from local restrictions on applying coatings and of course the ban on TBT, there has been no regulatory element involved.
That is changing and I expected that very soon biofouling will be the next environmental issue that the IMO will be pursuing. The precursors to the ballast water convention and extending the energy efficiency rules was the establishment by the IMO of new global partnerships with other bodies and industry.
The GloBallast and GloMEEP projects responsible for those matters were added to last August with the forming of a new body GloFouling. The project will focus on the implementation of the IMO Guidelines for the control and management of ships’ biofouling. It is currently in its infancy with the IMO looking to complete preparations for the project to proceed to full implementation later this year.
The IMO guidelines themselves are nothing new and have been around since 2011 with IMO member governments encouraged to promote them. Several shipowners are already making use of them on a voluntary basis and probably reaping a benefit from doing so. There is however a potential downside for ship operators in that the guidelines are already being used as the basis for regional or national regulations that could be problematic for some ships.
At the beginning of this year, California implemented new laws that require all vessels in its waters to have a biofouling management plan and to practice biofouling management on vetted and niche areas of the ship. The laws applied to all new vessels immediately and to existing ships from the time of their first out of water maintenance after 1 Jan 2018. Since May 2018, New Zealand has required all vessels that arrive in its waters to have ‘clean hulls’, with varying levels of fouling acceptable depending on the vessel’s itinerary.
It is expected that New Zealand will be applying its new rules rigorously not least because more than a year before they became effective it had already refused a heavily fouled vessel access to New Zealand waters. The case of the bulk carrier DL Marigold – which was also barred from Fijian waters – highlights a particular problem for affected ships.
Even with the best intentions, shipowners can never guarantee that fouling will not occur. This could be because of a poor application of the coating, physical damaged caused by grounding or contact with a floating object or for enforced periods of idling as may happen from time to time. The latter could be caused by weather, cargo delays or strikes while the vessel is in port and unable to even manoeuvre in an attempt to prevent fouling occurring.
When DL Marigold arrived in New Zealand waters it was doing so to discharge a cargo. Even if the owner was willing to drydock the vessel for cleaning, that could not be done until the cargo had been discharged. In the event, DL Marigold’s hull was cleaned by a team of divers in international waters off Fiji.
Cleaning services using ROVs or divers are available at some locations and it may be that in future shipowners will be obliged to make use of such services on a regular basis between drydockings. It will not always be possible for such a solution, so the question of how laden ships refused access to ports because of fouling can be dealt with is one that will need to be resolved, particularly as it may lead to a legal dispute under charterparties or other carriage contracts.•