Biofouling hits the agenda

Paul Fanning considers the significance of California’s announcement of mandatory biofouling management

A couple of weeks ago, I highlighted the threat posed by invasive species carried on the fouled hulls of vessels, suggesting that shipowners ought to address the issues of hull coating and maintenance before regulation required them to do so.

This assertion proved unwittingly prescient when it was revealed last week that, in a unilateral move, the state of California intends to tighten up its regulations on biofouling to include the mandatory biofouling management of the vessel’s wetted surfaces.

Taken with the intention of controlling the ingress of non-indigenous species, this measure has been approved by California’s Office of Administrative Law and is to become effective on 1 October this year

While it’s always nice to be vindicated, I have to admit that this move has not come as a complete surprise. California has been pursuing biofouling regulations for some time, as have Australia and New Zealand, while the IMO’s Marine Environmental Protection Committee is currently maintaining a watching brief on the uptake of its non-mandatory guidelines.

It should be said, of course, that in taking this action, California is some way ahead of anything covered by IMO or US regulations. Nonetheless, the transition of this issue from speculative to actual regulation represents a significant step in terms of its progression up the environmental agenda.

Realistically, it’s unlikely that most shipowners will have to face regulation on hull fouling in the very short term. In the longer term, however, it is looking increasingly likely.