Netherlands-based Fleet Cleaner now has a third specialist hull cleaning vessel, the Thunderbird 3. In addition, its hull cleaning ROVs can now be remotely operated from its remote operating control centre in Delft the Netherlands.

Hull biofouling and its role in invasive species transfer and carbon emissions due to increased fuel use continue to attract the attention of the IMO and national regulators. Fleet Cleaner deploys robots to remove biofouling from the hulls of ships.

Thunderbird 3, a converted former inland general cargo vessel, has joined the Fleet Cleaner fleet as a vessel from which hull cleaning ROVs can be deployed. It has been christened in a ceremony in Antwerp by Marianna Mastellone, new building project manager and energy manager at MSC Sorrento, a ship management arm of Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), which was one of Fleet Cleaner’s first customers.

The naming ceremony was attended by more than 150 guests, who were given a tour of the vessel and a demonstration of the remote operating control room in Delft.

The whole vessel including its engine room at the aft and equipment on deck is ATEX certified, so there is no risk of explosion when carrying out operations, thus making it suitable for cleaning all ship types during cargo operations at terminals, including tankers. The vessel also has large fenders to allow for sufficient clearance of the ship to be cleaned for safety purposes. The vessel is able to clean up to 150 ships a year and Fleet Cleaner calculates emissions are reduced significantly, equivalent to that from around 200,000 cars a year.


The hydraulically powered remotely operated vehicle (ROV) used to clean a hull is also ATEX certified. It is attached to the vessel using magnets and has an umbilical connection to Thunderbird 3 through which filtered seawater is pumped to the ROV for use as a pressurised cleaning medium. The pressure can be adjusted according to the degree of fouling and the types of coatings used. The cleaning heads are flexible and can move in all directions so the ROV can be used with confidence on different ship types.

The ROV has various aids to help the operator with cleaning and inspection, including lights, cameras front and back, and various sensors that helps the operator navigate over the hull surface. It can cover up to 2000 m2/hr and is designed for 50-metre underwater operation.

All removed fouling is collected and transported via the umbilical back to Thunderbird 3 where it is filtered and stored on board or transported by barge if the job is a large one. The cleaned, filtered water can be released back into the port.

Remote control of the ROVs

Before commissioning the Delft remote centre, Fleet Cleaner’s ROVs needed to be controlled and operated from the vessels themselves, but now operators can continue to work around the clock and the number of crew on the vessels can be reduced. To aid the remote operator, specialised software is used to load the hull drawings of the ship so that the cleaning process is better planned and controlled.

The remote control centre of Fleet Cleaner is demonstrated on a screen.
Alex Noordstrand, CEO of Fleet Cleaner, shows how an operator controls a hull cleaning ROV (photo: Fleet Cleaner).

‘We now have dedicated, highly skilled operators working in the control centre, sailors on the vessels and we also have service engineers,’ explains Alex Noordstrand, CEO and co-founder of Fleet Cleaner. ‘So, we no longer have all-rounders doing all the jobs, we now have work specialisations to enable our remote hull cleaning and inspections services. The remote operation is an essential step for further automation that will increase production and grow our operations sustainably. Working remotely is the future.’

Fleet Cleaner looking to expand further

Fleet Cleaner’s operations and methods have been approved by authorities in the Netherlands and Belgium and the company is looking to expand. It has recently inspected two further vessels that may very well become Thunderbird 4 and Thunderbird 5. By the end of this year, it expects to be performing daily inspections in seven countries around the world and have grown its operations to meet increasing customer and market demands.