Maritime Gas Detection: Key Cost Drivers

Maintaining a gas detection system at sea can be a highly complex discipline. What can we do about it?

We have previously discussed gas hazards at sea, and how they can threaten the safety of crew and cargo. Eliminating the threat completely might seem unrealistic; proximity to gases is part and parcel of life at sea. A more sensible response is to employ various safeguards, the most important of which is a gas detection system coupled with good routines.

And sure enough – all vessels have this to some extent, as required by laws and regulations. However, gas detection systems can be complex, disordered and expensive to maintain.

Below is a walk-through of the most common challenges.

 

1. Lack of Standardisation and Routines

Most of the cost drivers are born out of the mother category “standardisation” (or lack thereof).

Shipping is a game of variety, both in terms of cargo, vessel classifications and territories. This certainly holds true for gas detection as well. The traditional gas detection setup on an individual vessel consists of:

  • 10–12 different instruments, from
  • 8–10 suppliers

 

The different instruments are needed due to the many different gas hazards on board, whilst them amount of suppliers is a result of lacking overview and planning.

Prior to launch, every ship is equipped with (a minimum of) gas detection equipment. As these units expire or deteriorate, the ship owner is required to maintain or replace them. As a measure to avoid vetting remarks (vettings happen at varying frequencies, and may be scheduled beforehand or unannounced), ship owners often procure additional gas detection equipment – just to make certain that they will be in compliance.

The problem is that any gas detection equipment on board has to be maintained, so any additional units result in additional maintenance. Suddenly, a vessel is “locked in” with 20 units, where perhaps eight would suffice. This represents a cost. We have outlined a real-world cost scenario in the table below:

Real-world case study

Gas detection on a fleet of 14 vessels

  Before Standardisation After Standardisation Reduction
Instruments 176 84 – 92
Types of instruments 26 3 – 23
Manufacturers 9 2 – 8
Suppliers 9 1 – 8
Maintenance cost per year USD 105 600 USD 50 400 – USD 55 200

 

Cost Drivers

Now, consider how ship owners sometimes oversee tens, or even hundreds of ships. This raises the administrative complexity considerably. Although many of the vessels will have similar classifications, the technical configuration of each individual vessel will normally be unique.

This leads us on to the next challenge.


2. Burdensome Administration

The scattered approach described above requires extensive effort from the fleet administrators. Staying on top of requirements, keeping overview and up-to-date systems, require competence in gas regulations and solutions. Here are some of the regulations to which they need to conform:

Regulations
IMO ISGOTT SOLAS OCIMF ISM ISPS Class Societies Oil Majors


BruusgaardShips will often have to comply with several different regulations, either in parallel or in accordance with the cargo they carry at any given time (some ships carry one type of goods from A to B, and a different one from B to A).

This can be a complicated landscape to navigate, even for seasoned professionals. 

Cost-efficient gas detection capabilities require supply chain precision, something that can be hard to achieve in complex organisations.


Lack of standardisation can lead to:

  • an excessive amount of suppliers, where one would have been sufficient
  • a significant amount of invoices that need processing
  • a high number of shipments that need handling, not to mention the cost incurred by shipping tolls and other fees
  • time-consuming administration
  • over-procurement


The shipping industry faces pressure to make operations more sustainable, perhaps in particular when it comes to safeguarding personnel and resources. Good planning is a crucial factor for maintaining a safe work environment, avoiding over-procurement and reducing waste of resources.

 

3. Extensive Training Required

How would you like it if someone gave you a different phone several times a week? 

Changes can be a good thing in life, but when it comes to life-saving drills and equipment – you want to double-down on what you already know and master. Gas detection equipment should align with your know-how, not come towards you like a curveball. 

Crew members often sail with different ships in a fleet. Everytime they go from one environment to another, they will have to adapt to different circumstances. Ship owners should help make that transition as smooth as possible. 

If your fleet relies on gas detection instruments from many different suppliers, you achieve two things: 1) Reduced crew safety and 2) an increased need for training/adaptation. 

Both carry a cost.

 

4. Ad-hoc Maintenance and Logistics

As mentioned above, ship owners are required to keep their gas detection equipment maintained. For each gas detection unit, there are two steps involved:

  • Calibration
  • Replacement of spares and accessories

Bruusgaard-20

Maintenance traditionally involves shipping the equipment to shore, where a service provider performs the service.

The challenge for a ship is to keep 13 different instruments, with 13 different expiration dates, calibrated – and keeping the ship on track with its primary task: Transporting its cargo.

If a ship crew discovers that their vessel is due for vetting, and it realises that some of the gas detection equipment has expired, they are forced to either dock or arrange some other transaction – post-haste. Shipping of dangerous goods (calibration gases) to a remote location is costly and logistically challenging.

Faced with the alternative of keeping a USD 25 000 – 100 000 per day oil tanker at bay, it is not uncommon for shipowners to resort to expensive means of transportation, like using helicopters. Obviously, this is not a cost-effective nor environmentally friendly solution.


A more cost-efficient strategy would be to aim for:

  • On-board calibration and maintenance capabilities
  • Fewer instruments on board
  • Traceability – instrument history and usage
  • Logs of instrument usage, including abnormal observations
  • Clear routines
  • A proactive support team


This would allow for easier planning and a more coherent maintenance program. Planning is key.