Why maintenance is an investment, not a cost

Why maintenance is an investment, not a cost

A rustbucket is likely to lead to lower rate possibilities and more headaches for owners. Keeping a vessel’s exterior in good condition not only protects an owner’s reputation, but also ultimately his or her bottom line. That’s the verdict from a wide-ranging ship appearance survey Maritime CEO has carried out for this magazine. More than 100 shipowners, operators and managers were contacted for this unique survey.

“The cosmetics side is critical,” argues Tim Huxley, the ceo of Hong Kong’s Wah Kwong Maritime Transport Holdings, “as that is the frontline of your company’s image. Crew are more motivated if it is a smart ship and first impressions are important – whether it be a charterer, a vetting inspector or financier going onboard.”

Vaibhav Singhal, general manager at X-Press Feeders, reckons that customers never really get to get to know the inside of a vessel and they very much rely on the external cosmetic condition of a ship in deciding to do business.

Not mincing his words, Kevin Leach-Smith, vice president at Singapore’s Masterbulk, says: “First impressions are everything, especially when it comes to port state inspectors and the like. Look like a rustbucket and they will treat you like a rustbucket, no matter how good your people and systems are.”

Huxley then cautions: “It’s certainly not everything and throwing paint at a ship will not cover any inherent ills.”

“Within Concordia Maritime,” relays Kim Ullman, the ceo of the Swedish tanker owner, “we as owners, require our vessels to be painted in the corporate branding and maintained to this standard in service. With all corporate logos and branding being continuously intact and the corrosion resistance well maintained we market the vessels to reflect the high standards we work to giving our customers the confidence in our ability to safety transport their cargoes.”

Many customers require all chartered vessels to appear cosmetically attractive due to public perception for the protection of their reputation in the event of any negative media incident, Ullman notes. In the same manner a well-protected coating gives greater corrosion resistance lowering maintenance and costs as the vessels age. With well maintained and quality underwater coating the fuel consumption can be reduced along with the environmental impact.

Borje Anglerud, senior super-intendent at Northern Marine Management’s Houston office, comments: “With the vetting regime getting to a point where it’s over the top because they can’t find anything else to comment on, a ship can be rejected by owners or oil majors for cosmetic appearance.” A rust streak is often classed as heavy corrosion, he says.

A decent looking ship is also important for those who are tasked with operating it, something that is often overlooked. Fared Khan, fleet personnel director at Hong Kong’s Wallem Ship Management, insists: “A good-looking vessel builds crew motivation and can have a positive affect on the physical and mental health of crew.”

Moreover, the Maritime Labour Convention’s reference to living conditions highlight the importance of a positive rest and work environment.


Surface preparation

Given limited crew resources, our respondents had plenty of advice on the best methods for maintaining the cosmetic integrity of your vessel?

Leach-Smith from Masterbulk has three words uppermost in his mind in answering this question: Preparation, preparation, preparation.

Proper surface preparation prior to application of paint is crucial, he says. “Without it,” he warns, “you may as well not waste your money on paint. Selection of the right paint is next.”

Northern Marine Management’s Anglerud admits he has seen weeks’ worth of surface preparation being wasted because the paint was not applied with sufficient thickness or only two coats were applied when the paint scheme called for three.

“Any rust spot arisen should be tackled immediately to avoid it from spreading,” says Wah Kwong’s deputy coo Capt J F Zhou.

Regular maintenance does not require a huge number of crew on board. PMS systems are an efficient tool to assist the crew to maintain the cosmetic integrity of the vessel.

Continual touch up fabric maintenance on a prioritised basis performed on long ocean passages in favourable climates was the advice of Concordia’s Ullman. Likewise he felt thoughtful hull preparation and product selection during drydockings assists with the longevity of the application coupled with considerately placed logos that avoid high abrasion impact areas such as tug pushing areas.

Deck corrosion is an issue for many of our respondents when maintaining a vessel, particularly when in between drydocking.

With hectic voyages on some vessels, impact damages in port during cargo work and sea spray acting as a catalyst, deck corrosion is often an issue, reckons Fleet’s Rajvanshy. “If not addressed,” he says, “the transformation from a very good ship to rustbucket can be very rapid.”

Quick rate deterioration of fixtures and fittings, pipe clamps and brackets can cause early widespread unattractive deck staining, says Concordia’s Ullman.

Deck corrosion is especially an issue with older vessels, points out Leach-Smith from Masterbulk.

“You have to keep on top of it, or it is a never ending game which you can never win,” he warns.

Deck washing and cleaning is sometimes not feasible due to extremely short voyages, particularly in small bulkers, says Wah Kwong’s Zhou, adding that the situation can become even worse if encountering bad weather.

A useful tip here comes from TCC’s chairman Kenneth Koo who observes that during newbuilding stages, shipyards will tend to apply minimum coatings on deck.

“What we’ve been inclined to do,” Koo reveals, “is to apply another full overall coating shortly after delivery to ensure maximum protection and minimum maintenance of free surface areas of the main deck.”


Tricks of the trade

When it comes to tricks of the trade, solutions to keep a ship shiny while it is sailing, our respondents were generous with their insights.

Immediate touch up of any mechanical damage immediately after port departure and a fresh water power wash prior to application to ensure good surface adherence is deemed essential by Concordia’s Ullman.

Ioannis Stefanou, Wallem’s global technical director, says the biggest priority is preparing the surface before painting.

“It must be correct,” he says, “or the paint will not stick, or not for long.”

The traditional descaling tools, which were once used are not appropriate for the modern paint application process, he points out. This includes tools which inadvertently added salt to the metal surface, which could not be seen by the crew, and resulted in corrosion.

Stefanou recommends the use of a grit blaster or power tooling for surface preparation.

Sand must never be used for blasting, because an inhalation of the fine sand dust, produced when blasting, may cause silicosis. The preferred material, according to Unicom Management’s technical manager, Oleg Kalinin, is a copper slag with a size range from 0.3 mm to 1.5 mm. The grit can be recycled once only. It must be kept dry and should be sieved with a special sieve before the storage and prior to reusing.

The blasted area must be coated within two to four hours, depending on humidity, to avoid rust blooming, Kalinin advises.

The correct paint dry film thickness is also an important topic. Too think or too thin an application will result in poor longevity. The paint suppliers’ instructions must be followed to ensure the correct paint thickness is maintained.

“One rule that serves well,” claims Fleet’s Rajvanshy, “is to evaluate whether it may be more economical to replace hard to maintain rusted outfitting such as pipelines, gratings, valves, U clamps, etcetera rather than trying to chip or wire brush and paint them. If you are going for the replacement options look for stainless steel outfitting for bolts and clamps and fibre glass for gratings.”

Replacement of traditional steel ropes with high modulus synthetic fibre popes as mooring lines is another top tip from Unicom’s Kalinin. This not only helps to reduce the time of mooring operations but also prevents mechanical damage to the coatings of the deck and mooring equipment.

Crew training, correct maintenance tools, planning, onboard supervision and regular follow up from the office are paramount for good deck maintenance, most respondents concurred.


Cargo hold issues

There are many issues, both commercially and in terms of safety, that owners come across when maintaining cargo holds particularly when changing between different cargo types.

Any maintenance within cargo tank spaces can only be performed when the tank atmosphere has been prepared and tested safe for entry with strict control through permits to work and enclosed entry permits. The atmosphere then needs to be maintained safe for all entrants throughout the repair period and regularly checked. Access, lighting, personal protective equipment, coating and tools need to be appropriately safe for the task and the work site. The preparation of tanks space for entry requires washing, cleaning, purging and inerting. This process consumes fuel which has a significant commercial implication for owners and operators. Access for coating touch ups can be challenging with staging being erected as required. Carriage of heated or aggressive cargoes can deteriorate the situation by accelerating corrosion.

TCC’s Koo says owners should invest in freshwater rinsing of cargo holds on alternate ballast passages.

Advice from Anglo-Eastern suggests that generally cargo holds need to be completely renovated once every five years at at drydockings for dry bulk vessels up to panamax size and once every 7.5 years for capesizes and bigger vessels.

Fellow shipmanager Unicom says that the hatch coaming must be considered as the first area where blasting and painting should be done if it is located within a zone that is planned for maintenance. The pipework and fittings should be maintained next. The flat deck and hatch covers should be planned to be maintained at the end.

Badrul Jasni, managing director of Rustibus Singapore, points out that the firm’s Rustibus 2000 model addresses preparation of cargo hold tank tops when changing from black to white cargo. Prior to buying this equipment owners had previously incurred costs of approximately $20,000 per day for Custom clearance and logistic costs, pre-hold survey costs, extra bonus for the crews for last minute work to address cargo holds and most significantly losses due to delay in berthing.

“With Rustibus 2000 on board with adequate Rustibus spares, they have a tried and tested solution that prevents such a recurrence,” Jasni maintains.

In conclusion, Koo from Hong Kong’s TCC sums it up best.

“When I look at maintenance,” he says, “I do not necessarily interpret that as a cost. I tend to look at this more as an investment from the point of risk management. Being proactive, learning to apply early detection, diagnosis and preventative maintenance is the key.”

After all, maintenance costs are limited. It’s the consequential damages that are sustained when a vessel is at sea which will be the most destructive, potentially extending towards loss of life and reputation for the owner.


This feature was taken from the recently released Maritime CEO Surface Preparation Special, published in association with Rustibus. The whole magazine can be read for free by clicking here.

Grant Rowles

Grant spent nine years at Informa Group based in London, Sydney, Hong Kong and Singapore. He gained strong management experience in publishing, conferences and awards schemes in the shipping and legal areas, working on a number of titles including Lloyd's List. In 2009 Grant joined Seatrade responsible for the commercial development of Seatrade’s Asia products. In 2012, with Sam Chambers, he co-founded Asia Shipping Media.

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