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Guardians at the Gate

As trusted third-party advisers, class societies play a critical role in managing change and ensuring safety for clients.

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By Paul Benecki 12-13-2019 06:53:13

(Article originally published in May/June 2019 edition.)

Class societies provide a vital service by ensuring vessel safety from the design phase through construction and throughout the ship’s lifespan. Thanks to the technical expertise they’ve gathered by performing this function, they’re well-positioned to help shipowners adapt to technological and regulatory change. As trusted third parties, they act as neutral keepers of the industry’s knowledge and provide independent advice on best practices. Today, more than ever, these roles make class critical as shipping undergoes its “big data” revolution and adapts to ever-more-stringent environmental requirements.  

Managing Big Data    

Ship data is already an inherent part of class societies’ business. After all, they maintain extensive records on ship design and analyze vessel performance on behalf of a wide array of clients. With the advent of digitally connected ships and equipment, ship operators have to adapt their practices to handle a flood of new data, and class societies are well-positioned to help. 

In 2015, Japanese class society ClassNK set up a tech subsidiary to offer data storage and analysis services. That company, ShipDC, now runs a data cooperative called Internet of Ships Open Platform (IoS-OP), which is intended to provide a neutral place for data owners and service providers to collaborate. It’s not just a cloud services platform with storage and software tools. It’s built around a set of data ownership rules and controls that give shipowners, ship managers and consultants a way to share their information with clarity. It also contains a framework that allows shipowners to sell their data to interested users, like shipyards or marine equipment manufacturers, for purposes of product development. 

NAPA, the ClassNK-owned maritime software firm, will be the first service provider on IoS-OP. NAPA's offerings will focus on vessel performance and voyage optimization, two areas in which it has considerable expertise. Naoki Mizutani, Managing Director for NAPA Japan, says NAPA is well-placed to deploy its experience in naval architecture and new "big data" techniques to answer shipowners’ big questions: 

"How are we going to dramatically reduce emissions and stay profitable?”
“How can we keep making ships that perform better and safer?" 

“To answer these questions,” Mizutani says, “collaboration is key. Being able to draw on data from the whole IoS-OP consortium means we can get better results.”

Leading class society DNV GL also places a heavy emphasis on technology and digitization and has one of the largest cloud platforms for clients and vendors. This platform – Veracity – serves as a ship data repository and provides a vetted and authorized ecosystem of digital services. It hosts dozens of maritime-focused tools like DNV GL's ECO Insight fleet performance management service and HudsonCyber's HACyberLogix cyber risk assessment suite. It also offers a host of data sources including metocean measurements, bathymetry and satellite imagery. 

Veracity is also home to advanced tools that have applications in all industries including maritime and offshore oil and gas. The latest addition, Veracity Deep Search, does exactly what its name suggests: Provide a rapid search of vast quantities of stored documents and data including scanned and handwritten documents. This helps users spend less time hunting through their own data and more time producing results from it. 

The American Bureau of Shipping is also a leader in digital services for shipping, from AI-driven inspection technology to its Herbert-ABS stability software partnership. It’s now helping shipowners adapt to the "big data" revolution with three new "smart" notations for vessels. These notations – for data infrastructure, machinery health monitoring and structural health monitoring –  are intended to facilitate new digital services for ship management, especially (as their names suggest) condition monitoring for valuable assets. 

Under its new “smart” guidelines, ABS will also provide certification for a constellation of third-party, data-driven service vendors including OEMs, contractors and shipyards. Shipowners and operators can apply for their own “smart” certification as well if they wish to create their own in-house "smart" services. 

The new guidelines underpin ABS’ “condition-based class” concept, which aims to introduce survey and inspection cycles driven by electronically monitored asset condition. With type-approved monitoring systems installed on board, supported by an ecosystem of class-approved “smart” service providers, the long-term goal of a condition-based classification system moves one step closer to reality. 

Getting Ready for 2020

As the deadline for IMO’s 0.5 percent fuel sulfur cap approaches, shipowners are looking for ways to make the transition without running into operating problems. By carrying out research and advising shipowners on how to avoid pitfalls and keep their ships running smoothly, class has an important role to play.

ClassNK expects that many of the new low-sulfur fuel oil (LSFO) blends will be based on products created during fluid catalytic cracking, a refining process used to split residual oil from distillation into lighter, more valuable products. 

One of the residues of catalytic cracking, a leftover known as clarified slurry oil, will likely find its way into bunker fuel in increased quantities due to its low sulfur content. It’s heavy on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which can cause the asphaltenes found in ordinary fuel oil to fall out of suspension. If the operator mixes a fuel that contains lots of clarified oil with a different blend that does not, the asphaltenes may glue themselves together into a heavy sludge, clogging tanks, pipes, purifiers and fuel filters. 

In addition, ClassNK notes that slurry oil is where most of the catalytic fines (cat fines) end up after catalytic cracking. Clarified slurry oil is cleaned before it leaves the refinery but is still the main source of these notoriously abrasive particles in marine fuel blends. Cat fines are permissible in limited amounts under ISO bunker standards. But if they make it past the ship’s fuel purifier in higher-than-normal concentrations, they can cause serious engine damage.

Varying Blends

All this means that shipowners will need to keep a careful eye on their fuel to avoid trouble. The composition of the LSFO blend is expected to vary widely between refiners and geographic regions with viscosities and feedstocks all over the map. 

To avoid problems, fuel from different sources should be segregated as fully as possible, according to ClassNK, and the amount of time that two fuels are mixed together in service tanks and piping should be minimized. As a further precaution, the crew should switch the engine's supply source from one fuel blend to another while transiting in low-risk areas, away from congested sea lanes. 

Lloyd's Register's chief fuel oil expert, Tim Wilson, agrees that it’s a good idea to segregate LSFO bunkers from different sources: "Industry experts warn against mixing one bunker with another as there’s a high risk of destabilizing the fuels. In most situations, crews can’t easily assess the degree of risk of this happening until the fuel is already onboard, so segregation of bunkers is important."

There’s a lot of preparation to do. In the runup to the changeover, each ship will need a full implementation plan, as recommended by IMO. The owner may have to assess whether the ship is equipped to adequately segregate bunker supplies, and the crew will have to be trained and prepared to handle the new fuels. "Yes, there are risks and safety concerns," says Wilson. "However, the industry can tackle these with a sense of confidence if sufficient planning, testing and stakeholder engagement are implemented."

Charlotte Røjgaard, Global Technical Manager for Bureau Veritas’ VeriFuel Division, agrees that shipowners should prepare carefully for the transition. After years of storing HFO, fuel tanks will have accumulated sediment containing lots of cat fines and sulfurous compounds. If not cleaned out, that sludge can mix with compliant LSFO and raise its sulfur content above the IMO 2020 limit. Shipowners should prepare in advance to perform that cleanout and make sure their ships are properly equipped to heat the fuel if its cold-flow properties require a higher temperature for use.

BV’s VeriFuel Division offers a range of services to help shipowners meet these challenges. In the run-up to the transition, it’s conducted a series of seminars, workshops and training courses to highlight the steps needed to prepare for the switch. BV has also helped individual operators with preparing their changeover procedures and their vessel-by-vessel compliance planning. 

For those who would like to assess the quality of their new LSFO bunkers in detail, VeriFuel can help with comprehensive fuel-testing services. “We are receiving more and more samples representing VLSFOs, which are tested to the ISO 8217 parameters as well as with more in-depth tests for a deeper understanding of, for example, cold-flow properties or stability and compatibility with other fuels,” Røjgaard says. 

Mindset Change

The fuel samples that BV VeriFuel has tested so far look good, Røjgaard says, and she believes the industry is quite capable of making the transition if shipowners take the right steps: “With proper preparation, planning and training, the technical challenges can be managed. Bear in mind that the technical challenges are not new. We are familiar with all the technical challenges. It is the mindset that has to change.”

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