Biofouling Moves Up the Regulatory Agenda

File image via wikimedia / Lamiot

Published Oct 25, 2017 5:58 PM by GARD

[By Kristin Urdahl, Senior Loss Prevention Executive, Arendal]

The introduction of invasive aquatic species (IAS) associated with global shipping has been identified as a significant threat to the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems. A multitude of species, carried either in vessels’ ballast water or on vessels’ hulls, are capable of surviving transit to new environments where they may become invasive by multiplying and out-competing native species. Although it is difficult to quantify the global economic impact of IAS, useful examples include the impact of the zebra and quagga mussels’ introduction in the United States, which alone are estimated to cause $1 billion a year in damages and associated control costs.

Which species can become invasive?

Not all species transported by vessels will become invasive, and not all survive the journey. In fact, many marine species have established in new regions with little known impact on the local environment. It is difficult to predict which species may arrive and where and when an introduced species will start to spread by itself into new areas and damage the local ecosystem. Even species that originally do not seem harmful may become invasive if conditions in their environment change, such as temperature and nutrients. Management practices that prevent the introduction of IAS are therefore a far more efficient and cost-effective approach to the problem than clean-ups once an invasive species has established in a new area.

Biofouling vs. untreated ballast

Biofouling is described as the “undesirable accumulation of microorganisms, plants, algae and animals on submerged structures (especially ships’ hulls)”. According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), several studies have determined that vessel biofouling has been a comparable, if not more significant, factor than untreated ballast water for introduction of IAS. In some parts of the world, evidence suggests that 70-80% of IAS introductions have occurred through biofouling.

While the risk posed by IAS in vessels’ ballast water is now regulated internationally by the Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention’s entry into force on 8 September 2017, the control of vessel biofouling remains largely voluntary. We may see the development of regulations that require more stringent hull cleaning as more governments, and the IMO, start to recognise that relying on voluntary control of vessel biofouling will not significantly reduce IAS threats.

IMO’s biofouling initiatives

In 2011, the IMO adopted Resolution MEPC.207(62) outlining the Guidelines for the Control and Management of Ships' Biofouling to Minimize the Transfer of Invasive Aquatic Species (IMO Biofouling Guidelines). These voluntary guidelines are intended to provide a globally consistent approach to the management of biofouling and recommend vessels carry a Biofouling Management Plan onboard that outlines practices to manage a vessel’s biofouling. Management practices may include applying an up-to-date anti-fouling coating, installing a marine growth prevention system and having in-water inspections and cleaning after extended stationary periods. Recommendations also include carrying an onboard Biofouling Record Book detailing all inspections and biofouling management measures undertaken.

The recent launch of the GloFouling Partnerships project marks an important step towards reducing vessels’ transfer of IAS and demonstrates the IMO’s commitment to address biofouling in a proactive and global manner. The project will focus on the implementation of the existing IMO Biofouling Guidelines and, in the same way that the GloBallast programme played a major role in the adoption of the BWM Convention, it may eventually change the regulatory map for biofouling.

New regional biofouling regulations

Lack of an international regulatory framework addressing the prevention of the transfer of IAS through biofouling has prompted several local governments to act and develop unilateral regulations. The state of California and New Zealand have already announced the implementation of more stringent biofouling regulations within their jurisdictions and Australia is currently considering doing the same. Those that have already implemented either mandatory or voluntary measures are also likely to examine vessels’ biofouling management procedures and records more carefully than they have in the past.


California, United States (US)

Title: Biofouling Management Regulations to Minimize the Transport of Nonindigenous Species from Vessels Arriving at California Ports (Article 4.8)

Effective: 1 October 2017

Application: Vessels of 300 GRT or more that arrive at a California port and carrying, or capable of carrying, ballast water

Key requirements: 

- From 1 October 2017, the Marine Invasive Species Program Annual Vessel Reporting Form(SLC 600.12) must be filed at least 24 hours prior to a vessel’s first arrival in any given calendar year at a Californian port. This can be done using the online Reporting Form Web Application at: https://misp.io. Vessels that have called at a Californian port in 2017 prior to 1 October are not required to submit the new Annual Vessel Reporting Form for 2017.

- The previous Ballast Water Treatment Technology Annual Reporting Form, Ballast Water Treatment Supplemental Reporting Form, and the Hull Husbandry Reporting Form are no longer valid.

- From 1 January 2018, after a vessel's first regular scheduled dry docking after this date, or upon delivery on or after this date, a vessel-specific Biofouling Management Plan and Record Book consistent with the requirements of the IMO Biofouling Guidelines must be carried onboard and the vessel’s wetted surfaces managed in accordance with the plan. The regulations emphasise the increased biofouling risk of vessels that undergo an extended residency period, i.e. remain in the same location for 45 days or more.

The California State Lands Commission has also released a Guidance Document which provides clear information to improve the understanding of, and compliance with, the new regulations. An overview of all requirements, reporting forms and documents is available on the SLC’s Marine Invasive Species Program website.

Biofouling management is also regulated under US federal law. The US Coast Guard requires rinsing of anchors and anchor chains, and removal of fouling from the hull, piping and tanks on a regular basis (33 CFR 151.2050). The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2013 Vessel General Permit program includes requirements for inspection of a vessels’ hull for attached living organisms. While the US federal regulations are not as detailed as California’s biofouling regulations, they too emphasise consistency with the IMO Biofouling Guidelines.


New Zealand

Title: Craft Risk Management Standard for Biofouling (CRMS)

Effective: 15 May 2018

Application: Vessels that will anchor, berth or be brought ashore in New Zealand after a voyage originating outside New Zealand’s territorial waters.

Key requirements:

 – From 15 May 2018, vessels must arrive in New Zealand with ‘clean hulls’. For vessels staying up to 20 days and only visit designated ports, a ‘clean hull’ means a slight amount of biofouling: slime layer, goose barnacles, and up to 5% cover of early biofouling depending on the area fouled. For vessels staying longer than 20 days or visiting places other than the designated ports, ‘clean hull’ means no biofouling apart from a slime layer and goose barnacles.

- The regulations provide three options on how to meet the ‘clean hull’ requirement: a) cleaning before entry (carried out less than 30 days before arrival in New Zealand or within 24 hours after arrival); b) continual maintenance by use of best practices such as those detailed in the IMO Biofouling Guidelines; or c) application of approved treatments.

- To demonstrate compliance, vessels arriving in New Zealand will be required to submit information about their biofouling management practices. For vessels relying on continual management, this includes a biofouling management plan and record book consistent with the IMO Biofouling Guidelines.

A Guidance Document accompanies the CRMS to demonstrate how the requirements will be enforced at the New Zealand border from 15 May 2018. This is currently a draft but is likely to be further refined during the lead up to the entry into force. The regulations and associated guidance documents can be downloaded from the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries’ (MPI) biofouling management website.

It is worth noting that even today, prior to entry into force of the new CRMS, the MPI may direct the owners of a vessel that pose a severe biofouling risk to take specific action. The unfortunate experience of one of Gard’s Members is described in our Loss Prevention Circular: New Zealand – management of biofouling.



There are currently no legislative requirements expressly dealing with biofouling for vessels entering Australian waters. 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.

Under the Australian Maritime Arrivals Reporting System (MARS), government officials will be provided with sufficient information to determine, prior to a vessel's arrival, the potential biosecurity threat presented by the vessel, including threats due to possible biofouling. This allows inspections to be targeted and may potentially provide a basis for banning a vessel from making a port call.

At the time of writing the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources states on itsbiofouling website that new biofouling management options for vessels arriving in Australian waters are being investigated. For advice on biofouling management, reference is made to the National Biofouling Management Guidelines.


Old problem – new risk

Many vessel operators are already implementing measures to reduce biofouling due to the economic incentives involved. Excess biofouling reduces hull speed and fuel efficiency, increases engine wear and can increase compliance costs associated with meeting restrictions on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

However, as current biofouling management practices have been developed primarily to improve vessel performance, they tend to focus largely on the vertical sides and flat bottoms of hulls. The methods used may therefore have limited effect on IAS problems as they do not address biofouling in niche areas such as sea chests, cooling water pipes, etc. This means that a ‘properly maintained’ vessel in terms of vessel performance can still be identified as a ‘high biofouling risk vessel’ in some parts of the world.

The time to act is now

Finding the ‘right way’ to handle biofouling can present some challenges as the biofouling risk and management options will be different for each vessel depending on design, operating profile, and trading routes. However, with new biofouling regulations looming on the horizon, Members and clients should take steps now to ensure that their current biofouling management procedures have sufficient focus on the transfer of IAS.

Although not all regional biofouling regulations are the same, compliance with the IMO Biofouling Guidelines will go a long way towards allowing access to ports with mandatory biofouling regulations. The following key elements should therefore be considered part of an effective biofouling compliance strategy:

- Ensure that each vessel retains onboard a Biofouling Management Plan describing the biofouling management procedures specifically applicable to that vessel. The applied management practices, including those for niche areas, should be consistent with the approach put forward by the IMO Biofouling Guidelines. INTERTANKO’s Guide to Modern Antifouling Systems and Biofouling Management may also be considered useful as it provides advice on the current antifouling systems on the market. A copy of the guide can be obtained by contacting INTERTANKO at: [email protected].

- Review the Biofouling Management Plan regularly and revise it as necessary taking into account any changes in the vessel’s trading routes and operating profile.

- Provide vessels’ crew with training and instruction on the application of the relevant biofouling management procedures. It is important to create a general understanding of the impact of IAS from vessels’ biofouling as well as the benefits to the vessel of managing biofouling.

- For vessels calling at ports in in the state of California, New Zealand and other regions with unilateral biofouling regulations, make sure that the crew is familiar with any particulars of the regulations in force as these can include unique reporting requirements (California) as well as specific thresholds for the permitted levels of biofouling (New Zealand).

- Stress the importance of proper on-board record keeping and provide clear instructions on how to maintain appropriate records and logs. An up-to-date Biofouling Record Book will assist government officials to quickly and efficiently assess the vessel’s potential for biofouling risk and thus minimise any delays to vessel operations.

- As some ports may have imposed certain restrictions on in-water cleaning, depending on the methods and chemicals involved, verify the applicable requirements with the vessel’s local agent well before arrival at the planned location for cleaning.

Without proper management of vessels’ biofouling, the considerable efforts made internationally to manage ballast water may only go part of the way towards minimising the translocation of harmful aquatic organisms.

This guidance has been reproduced from an article in GARD’s Insight series, and it may be found in its original form here

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.