Biofouling is Misunderstood According to New Survey

Survey says shipping industry underestimates impacts of biofouling

Published Jun 8, 2023 10:20 AM by The Maritime Executive

The majority of the global maritime industry underestimates the negative impact of biofouling according to a new report. Despite the efforts by the IMO and demonstrated benefits of reducing fuel costs and the commensurate reduction in emissions, the report finds that two-thirds of the shipping industry reports it is unaware of biofouling’s environmental impacts.

Biofouling is caused by the build-up of micro-organisms, plants, algae, and other small aquatic animals on the hull of a ship which can result in significant operational issues. The marine growth, which clings to the underside of a ship’s hull, reduces speed and maneuverability, requiring additional power and using more fuel to compensate for speed loss. In extreme cases, it can even damage the hull.

A survey of 100 shipping industry professionals was conducted in May by Lloyd’s List on behalf of the specialist marine coatings manufacturer Jotun. Almost two-thirds (59 percent) of the shipping industry underestimate the negative environmental impacts of biofouling, with as much as 1-in-4 saying they know little about the issue.

This is despite the recent GloFouling report published in partnership with the International Maritime Organization (IMO). That report highlighted that vessels operating with a clean hull free from biofouling, could slash CO2 emissions by a fifth and reduce fuel expenses by 19 percent. The report estimated that a ship could save as much as $6.5 million on fuel costs over a five-year period by adopting proactive hull and propeller cleaning.

Just over a third of shipping companies (38 percent) said they invest in biofouling solutions outside of dry-docking, a process which tends to be conducted in five-yearly cycles. Lack of awareness and cost limitations were cited as the main reasons why nearly two-thirds of shipping companies only invest in biofouling solutions during the dry-docking period.

Morten Sten Johansen, Global Marketing Director, Hull Performance Category at Jotun, said “If the shipping industry took a more proactive approach to hull cleaning, we as an industry could save as much as 198 million tonnes of CO?, according to global estimations published by the IMO in 2022. As well as being more fuel efficient and lowering emissions, proactive cleaning would reduce the risks ships pose to international waterways and maintain the shipping industry’s right to operate.”

The report highlights in addition to the operational benefits, biofouling can have a potentially catastrophic impact on biodiversity through the spread of invasive aquatic species, such as Pacific oysters which are plaguing European coastlines. The issue of biofouling prevention also made headlines this year as New Zealand and Australia tightened enforcement forcing cruise ships to skip port calls to have their hulls cleaned. Despite the attention on the issue, the survey finds that only 14 percent of respondents to the survey believed it posed a significant risk to biodiversity.