Bulkers Shaped by Regulations?

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

The possibility of a future regulatory regime in which newbuild bulk carriers over a certain size would need to be double-hulled has moved a step closer towards becoming a reality.

In March this year, the International Maritime Organization (IMO)'s sub-committee on ship design and equipment (DE46) started work drafting potential revisions to the SOLAS Convention. The DE initiative followed the agreement at the 76th session of IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (MSC76) that a regulation for double side skin construction should be considered for new bulkers of 492 ft. (150 m)-plus.

The task of drawing up the SOLAS revisions necessary for instituting double hulls, if this is indeed to become a mandatory requirement, is not scheduled to be concluded until the DE47 sub-committee meeting in 2004. Given the divergency of opinion within the industry on the safety arguments, practicalities and business implications of making double hulls obligatory, the industry therefore has more time in which to make its feelings known, and influence developments.

There is already a substantial fleet of double-hulled bulkers trading on the world's oceans, and new designs that promise long-term operational and maintenance benefits, and improved durability have been well received among shipowners and charterers. As recently demonstrated by a clutch of orders at Chinese shipyards, the case for investing in double side-skin configurations is all the stronger where construction can be obtained at a competitive cost. For sure, double side-skin designs eliminate exposed transverse framing and connections within the cargo spaces, protecting against mechanical damage and creating stiffer side structures.

However, a range of commercial and technical considerations still need to be addressed if the double-hull bulker is to be perceived in many areas of the bulk shipping and trading community as the favored way forward.

Class societies continue to bring major resources to bear in addressing the issue of bulk carrier safety. Through the body of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), the drive is on to find pragmatic, workable solutions behind which the industry can unite. It is to be hoped that the legislators pay very close heed to the sector's circumspect views on this matter and to its enormous technical know-how.

Bureau Veritas, for one, is set to publish a set of guidelines for bulker construction, aimed at helping shipowners decide on structural configuration, and assisting companies in newbuild negotiations with yards.

Bernard Anne, managing director of the society's Marine Division, struck a chord with many in the industry when he said recently "We are concerned that, in the rush towards demanding double hulls for everything, our political leaders may have lost sight of practicality."

"We all know that double hulls are not a panacea, and they have pros and cons," he observed, pointing out that "Single-hull bulkers can be just as robust, and there are many good, robust ships out there today with a useful life."

"I would much rather see a single-hull ship built to high standards and then well maintained by a quality owner, than have a double-hull ship built down to shipyard minimums, then maintained at minimum levels."

"We simply don't believe that you can design every problem out of a ship's structure, as maintenance will always be the key factor in how safe a ship is as it grows older," argued Bernard Anne, adding that "What makes the real differences between the strength of ships is much more often a matter of build quality and maintenance than a matter of design."

Bulker Water Ingress Alarms

Bulk carrier operators tasked with fitting water ingress detection systems on their vessels in compliance with SOLAS regulation XII/12, can start to progress their procurement plans after IMO recently defined a firm performance standard for this equipment. The recommendation for the fitting of such alarms was highlighted in the preliminary version of IACS unified requirement S24 first published in September 1998. This was then taken a step further during the meeting of the Working Group on Bulk Carrier Safety held during the MSC's 74th session in December 2001, following on from recommendations of the United Kingdom Report of the re-opened formal investigation into the loss of the MV Derbyshire.

SOLAS regulation XII/12, which was adopted during the 76th session of IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), which met in December 2002, requires the fitting of water ingress detection systems on all bulk carriers regardless of their date of construction, not later than the date of the first annual, intermediate or renewal survey of the ship to be carried out after July 1, 2004.

IMO DE Sub-Committee was instructed At MSC 76 to develop the performance standards after it was agreed there was a need for performance standards against which the operation and efficiency of the water ingress alarms could be measured. Following three months of discussion between committee members with the input of selected equipment manufacturers, a performance standard was approved at DE46, which finished on March 19, 2003. During the consultation process it is understood that representatives from Japan, IACS and MCA prepared three separate draft standards. These were evaluated and discussed in detail with the key points of each merged into a single document. The result is the final standard which defines a number of key additional functional requirements of water ingress detection systems, which can be summarized as follows:

• A separate and distinguishable audible alarm to be provided at the control panel for cargo hold 0.5m pre-alarm and 2m main alarm levels

• Equipment must be corrosion resistant for all intended cargoes

• Time delays to be included in the control and alarm system to prevent spurious alarms due to sloshing effects

• Detectors are capable of being functionally tested in-situ

• Filter elements fitted to the detectors should be capable of being cleaned before loading

A major consideration for bulk carrier operators in deciding which manufacturer's equipment to fit is how the equipment is to be installed. The application of level detectors serving cargo holds on bulk carriers is almost as hostile an application as you can get. It is critical that detectors are located suitably and protected from damage by cargo and machinery operations.

With a number of detection system technologies available, it is likely that the systems offering the simplest installation solution will be preferred - it is estimated that the cost of equipment installation may well be the main determinant of the overall project cost.

In consideration of the approach of the compliance schedule for SOLAS regulation XII/12 and the recent approval of the IMO performance standard, market interest for water ingress detection systems is growing rapidly. With literally thousands of vessels requiring the equipment, it is expected that manufacturers' delivery lead times will be extended as demand for equipment reaches its peak in the summer of 2004.

For operators who have vessels dry-docking prior to your latest fitting date of the first survey after July 1, 2004, then it may be greatly in their interests to consider installing the equipment during the scheduled dry-docking. Otherwise they may have to take the vessel out of service after the dry-docking to fit the equipment before/during the survey.

Arranging the installation of the equipment concurrently with general electrical/mechanical works during the dry-docking will undoubtedly deliver cost savings, and save a lot of time compared with arranging additional contractors during survey periods. It will also insure against the risk of costly delays to the sailing of the vessel, should the installation be delayed during the survey period.

Furthermore, for vessels that are offered for charter (if applicable), Charterers may favorably consider vessels equipped with water ingress alarm over those not similarly equipped.

Martek Marine's BulkSafe

In full compliance with all aspects of the new IMO performance standard, Martek Marine Ltd. offers its BULKSAFE water ingress detection system. Martek Marine Ltd. Managing Director Paul B. Luen said, "We were delighted to be afforded the opportunity of liasing with IMO DE sub-committee members over the development of the performance standard for water ingress level detection systems.

Three years in development, Luen says that BULKSAFE is "a unique offering and installation solution, which allows our MMS900 (patent pending) water level detectors to be installed so that they are totally isolated from the cargo and protected from dust and mechanical damage from cargo operations. Our BULKSAFETM system can be installed without any structural alterations or piping work within the cargo holds and can be commissioned by ship staff."

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