For hundreds of years, the commercial shipping industry has had an outsized effect on marine ecosystems around the world. Pollution spills caused by vessel collisions, coupled with greenhouse gas emissions and wastewater discharges from maritime vessels, have contributed to the decline of marine organisms. Commercial ships also transfer invasive organisms from one location to another, causing fundamental changes to fragile ecosystems. In addition to commercial marine insurance, shippers are now adopting standards to prevent invasive species from being transferred as a means of managing environmental risks.

The Spread of Invasive Species Aboard Ships

As vessels traverse oceans and rivers, their hulls collect marine organisms like algae, barnacles, marine worms, and bivalves. Over time, this accumulation of marine life – referred in the industry as “biofouling” — builds, increasing drag on hulls and contributing to greater fuel consumption. To combat this growth, shipping companies often employ in-water cleaning operations. Unfortunately, some of the organisms collecting on ship hulls are invasive; scrubbing or scraping the accumulation can result in the transfer of these invasive organisms into new environments.

According to researchers at the Smithsonian Institute, unintentional transfer of organisms by ship is the leading cause of biological invasions in coastal marine systems around the world. When introduced into new environments, the invasive organisms may crowd out native species or may contribute to the loss of nutrients essential for the health of fragile ecosystems. For shipping companies, transfer of invasive organisms may be covered under commercial marine insurance policies but preventing the spread from occurring can greatly reduce environmental risks.

A New Shipping Standard

Alarmed by the spread of invasive species in world waterways, a partnership between the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) has resulted in the publication of the shipping industry’s first standard on in-water cleaning of ships. The partnership also brought in a range of companies in the shipping industry and the scientific community to develop the standard.

The cleaning standard sets stringent controls on the capture of organisms and the cleanliness of effluent water discharged during hull cleaning. At least 90% of macro-organisms (organisms visible to the naked eye) must be captured by the firms responsible for hull cleaning, and the effluent water must have removed biological organisms and waste materials to one micron (one thousandth of a millimeter).

The ICS/BIMCO hull cleaning standard also includes:

  • Reporting requirements.
  • Approved cleaning procedures for hull cleaning companies.
  • Proactive measures for shipowners to apply before biofouling reaches severe levels.
  • Requirements for inspection and service of vessels.

The next step for implementation of the standard is to conduct rigorous testing on a small scale. Several global shipping companies have already agreed to participate in testing. For the standard to gain acceptance within the industry, the ICS/BIMCO partnership is leveraging relationships with ship owners, port facilities, hull cleaning firms, and manufacturers.

For now, shipowners rely on the protection of commercial marine insurance against liability risks. Shipping firms must check their policies carefully to ensure adequate coverage for unintentional transfer of invasive organisms. With this insurance and with adoption of the cleaning standard, the world’s vulnerable marine ecosystems gain valuable protection. Environmental protection is not the only benefit of the cleaning standard; shippers will improve fuel efficiency, further lowering annual operating expenses while reducing the discharge of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

About Merrimac Marine Insurance

At Merrimac Marine, we are dedicated to providing insurance for the marine industry to protect your clients’ business and assets. For more information about our products and programs, contact our specialists today at (800) 681-1998.