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IN-WATER HULL CLEANING – dead in South African waters?
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IN-WATER HULL CLEANING – dead in South African waters?

Missing out on an economic opportunity

In-water hull cleaning should be a thriving sub-sector of the South African maritime industry. With commercial ports well-positioned on major shipping routes as well as a government that is vocal about maximising the ocean economy – in-water hull cleaning represents a small, yet powerful opportunity for job creation, economic growth and transformation within the port environment. Sadly, as our editor, Colleen Jacka discovers, initiatives have been stalled by delayed follow-through on the part of the Port Authority and potential investors as well as existing new permit holders are becoming justifiably frustrated.


It’s almost exactly two years since Transnet National Ports Authority announced in May 2019 that they would proceed with plans to issue permits to allow for underwater hull cleaning within the South African port precincts. But, following a pilot project to re-establish an environmentally-friendly procedure that aimed to set the bar for reclaiming fouling, the service is only available ad-hoc at best in the Port of Durban.

This is clearly not the situation that local investors were hoping for. Meanwhile, other ports in the region – and most notably Mauritius – have dived into the market to establish themselves as attractive destinations for ships needing to comply with anti-fouling requirements.

Ever-evolving global standards

In February of this year BIMCO and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) published the first industry standard on in-water cleaning of ships. “This standard will help protect the environment in the port. Not only that, it will also help every organisation that is part of this process by raising the minimum standard of cleaning several notches higher and ensure that the end result is both a clean ship, and safe working practice,” said David Loosley, BIMCO secretary general.

According to this industry standard, at least 90 percent of the macro fouling must be captured by the cleaning company, and effluent water returned to the sea must have removed organisms and materials down to a microscopic size (0.000001 metres).

In April BIMCO and ICS submitted the industry standard to the International Maritime Organisation to support the international organisation’s work on minimising the transfer of invasive species.

The industry will now work to implement the standards uniting the efforts of several stakeholders, including paint manufacturers, in-water cleaning companies, shipowners, ports, and classification societies. These stakeholders will have to update their procedures, which BIMCO and ICS hopes will lead to a general wide-spread acceptance of the standard and associated certification and lay the groundwork for more ports to allow in-water cleaning.

The standard details planning; documentation and assessment of the operation, as well as the actual cleaning, the management of the effluent – the water involved in the cleaning – including the capture of particles, before it is released back into the sea.

The standard also includes:

  • Criteria for the cleanliness of water pumped back to sea.
  • Methods to help shipowners act before the biofouling growth and coverage become severe.
  • An approval procedure for cleaning companies.
  • Minimum reporting requirements.
  • Minimum requirements for an inspection, service and cleaning reports.

Ready to comply

In-water cleaning technology under the brand name Schomberg that emanated from the original pilot project undertaken by Aqua-Tech in the Port of Durban is now aiming to make a splash in the local as well as international markets.

Tracy Nettmann of Schomberg says potential investors who want to undertake hull cleaning and be granted permits need to understand how international requirements are evolving to ensure that the equipment they invest in complies.

“Prior to purchasing any form of underwater hull cleaning equipment, it is important to understand the guidelines, regulations and legislations that have been and still continue to be developed at international, national and regional levels to ensure the longevity of your investment,” she says explaining that the initial capital outlay can be immense, but that there are significant long-term benefits to investing in compliant machinery.

In a global industry that she estimates to be worth in the region of US$12 billion a year, she says that shipowners need to be prepared to pay more for in-water cleaning services given the stringent equipment requirements. She also believes that port authorities need to step up and ensure that permit holders meet the new international requirements and ban non-compliant companies and machinery.

Driving progress

Given the capital outlay required, it is important that a new entrant has access to adequate funding based on a sound business model. Speaking recently to a group of concerned local stakeholders it is clear that more needs to be done to provide an enabling environment as well as funding opportunities. They believe that entities such as the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (dtic) need to become more fully aware of the opportunities.

In addition, the consensus is that some sort of body needs to be established or existing forum used to drive the opportunity to ensure that it delivers on its transformation and job creation potential within a compliant environment.

A stalwart in the maritime industry and founder of the newly created Pan African Maritime Business Forum, Chris McCann, has watched the unfolding drama relating to the issuing of permits and the access to funding for new entrants who want to enter this market.

He believes that it ticks all the boxes of transformation and has first-hand knowledge of black and women-owned companies that are keen to start servicing the shipping sector in the ports of Saldanha Bay, Richards Bay and Cape Town.

“There are significant shortcomings in driving the progress of this sub-sector,” he says adding that the service could be implemented in all South Africa’s commercial ports. He has also witnessed local investors move to other markets where they are profiting from South Africa’s lack of impetus.

And while licences have now been issued in some ports, the progress towards maximising the opportunity is not being realised. Initial delays in issuing permits aside, now questions are being asked about the compliance of some of the equipment being presented for use some of the licence holders.

In addition, the Port of Durban restricts the service to only three berths – berth 101 to 103. According to Nettmann these are not ideal berths due to seabed restrictions that impact divers working around the ship.

Understanding potential market

Understanding the value of the potential market for South Africa is also understanding the current loss of revenue to South African companies as well as the port system. 

Nettmann reports that internationally vessels are being required to undertake hull cleaning at least twice a year – and in some cases up to four times a year.

Current access to vessels in the Port of Durban due to the berth restrictions have certainly curtailed the viability of the market for the five licence holders. Opening up more berths to offer cleaning; regulating the sector and promoting the country as an approved in-water hull cleaning destination could provide an easy win for the country’s ocean economy.


PHOTO SOURCE: Schomberg Technology 

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