Downtimes in shipping might seem unavoidable, yet HullWiper Ltd has developed a machine whereby vessel hulls can be cleaned and maintained free from service disruption. Managing Director Simon Doran and General Manager Laurance Langdon explained how HullWiper’s system is revolutionising the fortunes of shipping’s majors and how marine environmental concerns have never been more a talking point in the industry than they are today. Tony White reports.
Robotics, automation, artificial intelligence, Big Data and remote operation – perhaps the buzzwords of Google, Amazon and Silicon Valley’s finest, but equally as pertinent to the evolution of shipping today. Never have the major names of the shipping world held that tenet closer to the fore, and it is part of the reason why HullWiper’s Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) – based in Dubai but active worldwide – continues to engender appreciation. HullWiper is the diver-free and eco-friendly alternative to traditional hull cleaning methods.
Removing divers and their equipment from the equation eliminates the risk to human life. HullWiper is able to discretely and remotely clean and maintain a vessel’s hull subsurface efficiently and without disruption.
“I entered the organisation from a diving background, and initial indications were promising, with swift support gained from Maersk and the like,” said Simon Doran, Managing Director for HullWiper.
Active for just over five years, HullWiper’s design and features are in response to the findings of the company’s year-long consultation period which included surveying a number of major shipping lines to determine what they thought would be the best development for existing hull cleaning services. From these results, it was clear that shipowners wanted solutions which delivered not only tangible operational results but also enhanced their corporate green image.
One of the major challenges facing shipping today is that of biofouling – an issue being addressed by both HullWiper and its contemporaries in the market.
“The crucial element to remember is that this is a global, multi-industrial issue,” advised Paul Holtus, founder and CEO of the World Ocean Council (WOC). “Invading species and the like cannot be overcome by the shipping industry alone, but by the invested efforts of all organisations to whom the movement of goods around the world relates.”
This concerted effort, Mr Holtus recommended, will help stem the tide of biofouling. “Ports and harbours hosting organisms that contribute to biofouling are as responsible as the ships and industries active in moving goods,” he stressed. “There is considerable potential in Big Data and connectivity in communicating these challenges and co-ordinating efforts against them. It can communicate the presence of invasive species, the amount of time a given ship has been exposed to them and the risks involved, as well as the potential of cleaning the vessel.”
WOC works with companies like HullWiper in accomplishing progress in communicating biofouling solutions. Beyond that, the organisation’s own Glofouling initiative works to promote platforms of communication and education to all major players in the shipping sector, and beyond. It is a sentiment being echoed throughout the world as companies like HullWiper converge in tackling the biofouling issues of our age.
Efficient and effective
By utilising adjustable pressure sea water jets rather than abrasive brushes, HullWiper guarantees asset integrity. A stopover as simple as an overnight stay at a port for a container ship is time enough for the ROV to set to work, ensuring that even the most advanced of coatings and hull types are swiftly and safely reinvigorated – critical in today’s era of environmental mindfulness. All marine fouling is collected onboard a special filter on the unit and disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.
“The business model altogether evolved far beyond our initial expectations, and we soon discovered that we did well by following where global volumes were highest – and where vessel downtimes were most pronounced,” Mr Doran said. “Because we aren’t sending people underwater, not only is our solution safer, but it is also more compliant, so we are able to operate even in highly protected environments.”
Countless diving company partnerships in key markets worldwide, most notably Singapore, Scandinavia, Mediterranean and other ports give HullWiper exceptional reach.
“In terms of client relationships, critical as they are to our success, we enjoy accords with the top 10 in shipping – names like Maersk, Statoil and so forth,” Mr Doran remarked. “We also are enjoying a remarkable upswing in LNG ships serviced in areas like Australia. While competition is fierce, we have niche advantages, and we are also seeing superb opportunities in the cruise ship sector.”
Apace with innovation
Even when pioneering new methods of hull cleaning, HullWiper ensures that its own activities reflect the needs of its clients.
“When we first began operations, we were consistently approached about purchasing our machines, or renting them out,” revealed Laurance Langdon, General Manager for HullWiper. “We were initially reticent, for the reasons one might expect – safety of operation and intellectual property concerns to name but two. However, in more recent times, as we have become more established, we have begun leasing our equipment in select markets, and have enjoyed tremendous success thus far in doing so.”
Indeed, HullWiper’s flexibility is a cornerstone of its philosophy. As ship owners and operators face spiralling costs related to new ballast water treatment systems and environmental necessities, HullWiper is able to offer a solution that represents the vanguard of technology with a minimum of fuss.
“Industry standards are changing, yet we are offering something that is in advance of regulations that haven’t even entered into play yet – with the ambition that our solution becomes a go-to option by the time such regulations become the mainstay,” Mr Langdon commented.
“We take pride in the discretion of what we offer. A client is free to dock at port and conduct their business as we deal with hull cleaning, to the extent that they could comfortably ignore our presence.”
In many respects, HullWiper is a labour of love for all involved, and will remain so as the business grows ever more.
“I have always had a keen interest in preserving the environment, and through our work I have the good fortune of meeting likeminded businesses,” Mr Langdon said. “Even for those outside this industry, our new technology and solutions inspire people. To that end, we are doing our part to communicate the virtues of the service we offer, from the top level of this industry all the way down.
“As we grow within the container, cruise ship and LNG vessel markets and continue to identify locations where vessel turnarounds could be sped up, we see our future as one in which we will be a global player in every sense. That means we will grow ever closer to environmental bodies and leading shipping lines, and it means educating clients on the safety and efficiency of the HullWiper solution – as well as ensuring our technology is always at the forefront. Regulatory and environmental compliance has never been more a concern than it is today, and we are intent on proving our value addition.”
Source: Inside Marine