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First global standard for ship hull cleaning essential for marine ecosystems

BIMCO, the world’s largest shipping association, has moved a step closer to finishing a global set of guidelines needed to protect the marine environment from invasive species and reduce CO2 emissions. Currently, there is no common global standard for cleaning ships’ hulls to avoid transferring invasive aquatic species, nor for the potentially damaging debris washed off in the process.
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, also known as fouling. In a country like Australia alone, around 30,000 commercial port calls are carried out every year and if their hulls aren’t fairly clean organisms can move from one continent to another, transferring invasive species between marine environments and potentially harm local aquatic ecosystems. The organisms growing on the hull also increase drag and reduce 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.

“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,” says Aron Sørensen, BIMCO’s Head of Marine Environment.
He emphasizes that it is imperative that the cleaning can be done “in-water”, as there is limited availability of dry docks for very large ships, for example carrying iron ore or crude oil. 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, as some of the first. But 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. And the same goes for shipowners.
“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,” Sørensen says.