Biofouling set to be next issue on the IMO agenda

In between the formal proceedings at the 55th session of the IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 55) in London last week, New Zealand convened an informal meeting to discuss the potential for introducing requirements (Guidelines, Code of Practice, Regulations) on minimising the risk of transferring invasive species via the hulls of ships and small craft. On the basis of regional studies carried out mainly in New Zealand and Australia, the threat of invasive species being brought into a country on ships hulls is as great, if not greater than, the threat from their being introduced in ballast water.


The discussion opened with a status report, given by Naomi Parker of New Zealand, on the reasoning behind the meeting, namely the perceived need to begin implementing measures to reduce the risk of invasive species being transferred around the world on ships hulls and on niche areas (sea chests and gratings). Parker explained that while there had been efforts to minimise the risk of transferring organisms through ballast, hull fouling remained largely unmanaged. As a consequence it was felt that international action needed to be taken swiftly to minimise the threat.


Parker confirmed later that the term "unmanaged" referred to the lack of national contingency or preparation in preventing such invasions rather than a suggestion that the industry was not managing this issue.


Stefan Gollasch of Germany, a marine biologist closely involved with the ballast water issue, followed with a presentation on the scientific evidence associated with bio-invasions on ships' hulls. He gave examples of invasions around the world, concluding that invasions due to hull fouling accounted for, on average, a third of all global bio-invasions, with ballast water and aquaculture making up the remaining two thirds.


The Australian Shipowners’ Association’s Theresa Hatch provided a balanced presentation giving details of a study the Association had carried out in 2001 and providing information as to the guidance it had given to its members on reducing invasions such as the rotation of the location of the hull docking blocks at each dry docking and the possibility of using different types of antifouling systems for different parts of the hull depending on fouling risk and hydrodynamic wear.


Hatch also gave an assessment as to which elements presented the greatest risk from hull bio-invasions explaining that rigs and small recreation craft were the main problem and not so much the larger commercial vessels.


Moving towards a discussion on the solutions, it appears that technical methods are in their infancy with simple brushing technologies appearing the most suitable at the moment. Two other options being investigated are steam cleaning and vacuuming. This led to some interesting comments expressing concern about the removal of hull fouling in coastal waters, and the need for an assessment of the total risk of hull fouling in terms of the likelihood of the organisms actually dislodging and seeking a new environment away from the ship’s hull.


At the end of the meeting the hosts requested comments on a future direction for the IMO on this matter. INTERTANKO, represented by Johnny Eliasson (Stolt Nielsen Transportation Group) and Tim Wilkins, raised several points which would need consideration before this matter was acted upon at an IMO level. However, there was general agreement among those present that the IMO may need to consider a new agenda item on the matter as it related to neither the Ballast nor the Anti-fouling Systems Conventions. INTERTANKO will maintain activity within this informal group, with the issue now on the agenda of the INTERTANKO Environmental Committee. 

Contact: Tim Wilkins