Unilateral action could be spur for new convention on antifouling

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

23 January 2018


Having dealt with the ban on TBT and developed a new ISO standard for measuring the effectiveness of antifoulings, coatings manufacturers should feel reasonably secure about any new regulation, but can the same be said of shipowners and operators.

This coming September will be the 10th anniversary of the coming into effect of the 2001 Convention on the Control of Harmful Antifouling Systems on Ships. In common with many IMO conventions, obtaining ratification was a more difficult process than agreeing the wording of the convention itself.

The delay between the adoption and its coming into effect did allow coatings manufacturers to develop a range of products which met the convention requirements even if not quite the performance of the banned TBT products. In fact, many had begun the process of developing new products much sooner in anticipation and because some countries – notably Japan – had decided to act unilaterally.

Development of new products and technologies has continued and each year since the convention, one or more coatings manufacturers have launched at least one new coating on to the market. With each new product, claims about its effectiveness have been made but a sceptical and suspicious attitude by shipowners spurred the development of a tool by which to measure claims.

This resulted in a new standard - ISO 19030 – which became operative last year. It will not satisfy all of the detractors of the claims made by coatings manufacturers because it only applies to ships with fixed pitch propellers and also because there is an onus on the shipowner to adopt agreed means of measuring performance which will involve the purchase and use of performance monitoring systems.

Whether they intend to monitor a coating’s effectiveness using ISO 19030 or not, almost decade of experience with the new products is probably sufficient for most owners to make comparisons with previous TBT offerings and to draw their own conclusions as to makers’ claims. It will also give them something to think about as it looks increasingly certain that new regulation will soon be proposed as to biofouling performance.

Guidelines already in place

As far back as July 2011 the IMO has been working towards removing the second – and some would argue more important – means of avoiding species transfer. The ballast issue is now effectively all over but the issue of biofouling is now the current concern. The guidelines introduced by the IMO as MEPC.207(62) in 2011 were recommendations as opposed to regulation even though the IMO encouraged flag and port states to promote their use.

The IMO guidelines have been picked up by several classification societies and some coatings manufacturers. Consequently, there are now a number of model biofouling management plan (BMP) templates available free of charge and ready advice on offer. A typical BMP will record details of hull coatings and provide practical guidance on measures to minimise the risk of transferring invasive species from ships’ biofouling.

That guidance would cover maintenance of antifouling systems and operational strategies such as matching coatings to environmental conditions likely to be encountered. A good BMP would ensure that factors such as slow steaming or long periods of inactivity are taken into account and paying particular attention to areas such as propellers, rudders, thrusters, anchors and chains, sea chests and chain lockers where conditions can permit organisms to survive for quite long periods.

It can be a good strategy for an owner to have a BMP but so long as no port state imposed restrictions it would have been of use only in so far as it highlighted potential fuel savings due to reduced biofouling. Now that situation is starting to change. At a local level, both California and New Zealand have taken unilateral action to protect their waters from species transfer by biofouling and more may be expected to follow.

Two states now have rules

As so often with environmental regulation, California was in the forefront. Its regulations became effective on 1 October last year but for the time being are mostly limited to documentary procedures. Ships are now obliged to complete an annual report known as the Marine Invasive Species Program Annual Vessel Reporting Form. This form replaces several other forms including those related to ballast water treatment.

In addition, ships must now have a BMP in place and maintain a Biofouling Record Book to call in Californian waters. This requirement applies following a vessel’s first regularly scheduled drydocking after 1 January 2018, or upon delivery if on or after that date. Vessels will be granted a 60-day grace period to develop a BMP and associated records if they are not already maintained onboard the vessel upon the first arrival to a California port after the requirement becomes effective.

Vessels subject to the rules must also carry out management of the ship’s wetted surfaces. In practice this means that if a vessel is using an antifouling coating, the antifouling coating shall not be aged beyond its effective coating lifespan, as documented in the vessel’s Biofouling Management Plan. If it is aged or if the ship has no antifouling, then the BMP must detail how biofouling is being avoided. All management actions should be documented in the Biofouling Record Book. Special rules apply to ships that have been laid-up or otherwise stayed in the same port for 45 consecutive days or more.

This year New Zealand will also be applying unilaterally declared regulations when the Craft Risk Management Standard for Biofouling takes effect in May. Once the rules are in effect, all vessels must arrive in New Zealand with a “clean hull”. The definition of a clean hull varies according to a vessel’s itinerary.

Different rules for different ships

What are deemed Short-stay vessels will be those in New Zealand waters for 20 days or less. This will include most commercial cargo vessels but most cruise vessels will fall into the long-stay category, which are those staying for 21 days or longer, or wanting to visit areas not approved as Places of First Arrival (places that are not approved ports, such as Milford Sound).

Short-stay vessels are permitted to have a slime layer, gooseneck barnacles and a slight fouling of early stage biofoulers such as tube worms or bryozoans. The requirements are stricter for long-stay vessels and the only biofouling these vessels may have is a slime layer and gooseneck barnacles.

Just as with ballast water regulations, these new rules suggest a degree of scientific knowledge that most crew will not possess. Under the new rules, vessels that cannot meet the requirements of the standard may face delays, cleaning expenses, or have itinerary or entry restrictions.

Information supplied by the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries suggests there are several ways that owners can ensure that ships meet the requirements. The easiest and probably the least expensive is to follow the IMO guidelines on best practice biofouling management. Failing that the advice suggests that the hull is cleaned and treated 30 days prior to arrival in New Zealand territorial waters or to do so within the first 24 hours of arrival to New Zealand Territory.

The New Zealand government is generally encouraging vessels to meet the long-stay threshold by cleaning 30 days prior to arrival. However, it recognises that due to the schedules which many cruise vessels operate to, they may struggle to do this. Much of the cruise line industry has demonstrated good best practice management of biofouling and should be able to meet the clean hull requirements with current hull maintenance practices and some additional grooming, either before they depart for the season, or during port visits on their planned route.

New Zealand does not plan to offer and period of grace and advises that after May, a vessel which does not meet the “clean hull” threshold for its length of stay and itinerary will face action to manage the associated biosecurity risk. For cruise vessels this may include restricted itinerary or revoked approval to visit certain ports and places of interest.

Any expenses associated with compulsory cleaning, or disruptions to a vessels schedule, must be met by the vessel owner or operator. All ships must provide evidence proving the vessel has a clean hull. This may include anti-fouling documentation, date-stamped photographs from a recent in-water inspection or clean, and receipts or records from any hull maintenance work.
More rules on the way Neighbouring Australia is also considering introducing regulations and has been collecting evidence in support for several years including a public consultation exercise in 2011. Although no laws are yet inexistence, the Biosecurity Act 2015 does, however, provide for biosecurity measures to be taken in relation to vessels if the level of biosecurity risk associated with them is unacceptable.

At a higher international level, last year saw the founding of the GloFouling Partnerships project – a collaboration between the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). This development repeats a similar chain of events around ballast water where the 2004 convention and the framework for approving systems was driven by the GloBallast partnership. The new body will address the transfer of aquatic species through biofouling and will focus on the implementation of the IMO Guidelines.

For coatings manufacturers, a mandatory requirement for an effective biofouling management plan will make their products indispensable for shipowners although there is unlikely to be any type-approval process as there is with ballast treatment systems. A regulation would also increase demand for hull cleaning services and perhaps other technologies and services aimed at proving compliance.