One hears and reads a great deal these days about biofouling also referred to as aquatic invasive species (AIS), non-indigenous marine species (NIMS), non-indigenous species (NIS), aquatic nuisance species, alien species and a number of other names. We shall refer to them here as NIS.
NIS are an economical as well as an environmental problem.
For some time the concentration on the shipping industry’s role in the spread of NIS centered on ballast water. More recently the focus has extended to include ship hull fouling as a vector of NIS translocation just as important as ballast water if not more so.
The NIS threat is increasing due to more shipping traffic and also perhaps because the antifouling systems in use since the ban of TBT have been generally much less effective in eliminating hull fouling.
It is more efficient and far less expensive to prevent the translocation of NIS in the first place than to try to clean up the damage they cause and eliminate the now-established species and prevent their further spread.
Legislation and regulation to prevent the spread of NIS via ship hull fouling is increasing in severity with some quite rigorous measures looming.
Efforts to deal with the problem to date have not been effective. It is generally agreed that in-water cleaning must be part of any handling, yet the antifouling and foul release coatings in general use impose severe restrictions on in-water cleaning. Frequent drydocking is not economically or logistically feasible.
The time is right for a thoroughly workable solution which is acceptable to governments, port authorities, environmental groups and the shipping industry. The ideal solution would also bring with it fuel savings, reduction of GHG and other emissions and elimination of the contamination of ports and oceans caused by heavy metals and other toxicants contained in traditional biocidal antifouling paints.
So far the efforts of states and ports have been in the direction of preventing ships arriving in their waters with fouled hulls and NIS. For example, the ANZECC code (currently under review) forbids in-water cleaning of vessels in Australian waters for fear that incoming vessels will bring NIS into Australia which will then establish themselves there. But forbidding in-water cleaning means that vessels leaving Australian ports, especially those that have been laid up for some time, will sail with a fouled hull and carry invasive species picked up in Australia to other parts of the world. This may appear to help with the local problem but in fact magnifies the international situation. And NIS is by its very nature an international problem.
A novel approach would be for ports and states to at least place equal emphasis on ships sailing from their port of departure with a clean hull. This would require international cooperation but the IMO is there to make sure that such international cooperation on important shipping related matters is obtained. And if such a solution also carried with it great financial benefits to shipowners/operators the world over, then it is quite likely to be accepted and adopted.
The two major barriers to effective handling of the global NIS problem are
1) the hull coatings in general use are not suitable for in-water cleaning, but in-water cleaning is an essential part of the solution to NIS;
2) in order for the NIS spread to be curtailed, ships must leave their port of origin with a clean hull and concentration needs to be on the beginning of the voyage just as much or more than on the state of the hull at the port of destination. Ships do not foul while sailing. They foul when they are stationery.
A great deal of work has been done on the subject of NIS by the IMO Marine Environmental Protection Committee’s Correspondence Group on the development of measures to minimize the transfer of invasive aquatic species through biofouling.
This White Paper outlines an existing, workable, environmentally and economically beneficial method of eliminating the threat of further spread of NIS via the ship and boat hull fouling vector using only currently extant, proven technology and methods.
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