The Dutch company Fleet Cleaner was a finalist in the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge in 2015 and is continuing its efforts to become one of the leading players in the ship hull cleaning industry. The company strongly believes that robotic hull cleaning is the future. We talked to co-founder Cornelis de Vet to hear how their ambition to become the default party for ship cleaning worldwide is taking shape.

How are things at Fleet Cleaner going?
“It has been a while since we participated as a finalist in the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge. Since then we have doubled, or maybe even tripled in team size, and since April 2017 we have had our first Fleet Cleaner installation in operation. We have developed a remotely controlled cleaning robot, making it possible to clean the ship’s hull below and above the waterline during cargo operations. Shipping companies will not suffer from any downtime and the cleaning generates fuel savings and reduces emissions. On average hull cleaning reduces fuel consumption and emissions by 5%.

Regulations about cleaning ships in ports are often strict. However, as we are able to collect the removed foul (slime, algae, barnacles), we are allowed to clean within all ports in the Netherlands. We offer the hull cleaning service to shipping companies, using the robot including support system and qualified operators. The support system involves a workboat as mobile cleaning station that can be moved from port to port. Currently, our service is available in the ports of Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Flushing and Eemshaven.”

What is the interest in your product from the market?
“There is a strong demand for what we do in the market. In North Western Europe in particular, there is a demand for good quality cleaning. Since April 2017 we have had one installation that is continuously in operation. The main questions asked by shipping companies are when the best time is to clean the ship and whether it will be really clean afterwards. Underwater visibility is often limited and we have done a lot of testing with our navigation and tracking systems to ensure the most complete hull cleaning. A big advantage for our clients is that the ships are cleaned during loading and unloading at the terminal. This saves significant time compared to alternative cleaning methods with divers, where the ship has to be anchored outside the port, which results in extra costs.”

Does the market have an interest in the fact that you offer an environmental solution?
“In our experience, cost and efficiency are bigger drivers in this market than sustainability. Fortunately, it is a win-win situation. If the hull of a ship is clean, there is less friction and it can sail faster. The build-up of algae, shells and so forth quickly necessitates large quantities of extra fuel to keep sailing at the same speed. All the waste we clean off a ship is collected, weighed and disposed of. We filter the wastewater and release clean water back into the environment.”

Did you change your company’s strategy along the way?
“We have changed hardly anything in our strategy. Before, we were perhaps more ambitious in our planning. We sometimes had to adjust our schedules. However, our goal, the spot on the horizon, is still clear and still the same: we want to become the default party for ship cleaning worldwide. In five years, we want to have our installations in 20 of the world’s main ports, creating a global network for hull cleaning. We feel strong in our ambitions, because the shipping industry is behind our idea.

At the end of this year we will launch our second installation, with several more to follow next year. We have spent a long time on getting that first installation as good as it can be. Since we have the systems, the whole design, the robot and all the knowledge, we expect things to move faster from now on.”

What did your participation in the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge bring you?
“In particular, our participation in the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge brought us a lot of publicity. Unfortunately we didn’t win, so afterwards we had to get back on track immediately with production and port tests, which were important milestones for follow-up financing. In that process, of course, the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge contributed to our credibility as an innovative start-up with a bright idea.”

What good advice do you have for new start-ups?
“My two cents for new start-ups would be to keep focus. We have been able to hold on to ours and we still have our eyes on our product and on our final goal. On the way, you will encounter numerous distractions and temptations. You will have to resist them to achieve your goal.”


Fleet Cleaner Hull Cleaning Vlieborg 1