When looking at baseline qualifications among third-party inspectors, there is a significant difference between those who have worked on ships and offshore structures and those who have not. Industry emphasis on suitably qualified inspectors in the marine field has taken a boost since the adoption of the International Maritime Organization’s IMO Performance Standard for Protective Coatings (IMO PSPC) for dedicated seawater ballast tanks.

This standard makes it mandatory that suitable qualifications (NACE II, FROSIO 3 or equivalent) are required as a minimum qualification for marine paint inspectors.

But nothing takes the place of experience. Inspectors with previous marine experience tend to have a better feel for the ebb and flow of the project—however, even experienced marine inspectors may face challenges.

Any third-party paint inspector can only control the specification and the contract that he/she is given. If there are faults in those, even the most experienced inspectors are often limited in taking necessary corrective action because of contractual or budgetary restrictions.

Marine Failures are Different

It is generally acknowledged that the majority of paint failures result from poor surface preparation. However, the truth is somewhat different. Coating failures on complex marine structures such as bridge beam internals and trusses are often a result of two issues:

  1. Complexity of the structure's design, which doesn’t allow proper access for surface preparation and coating works using current tools and technologies.
  2. Disparity between the coating specification and the product selection process.

It is one thing to have the right specification, it is another to select the best products to meet that specification. (For a coating failure case study, see The Anatomy of a Coating Failure.)

Moving Targets, More Paperwork

The unique emphasis between quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) in marine applications has been neatly summarized in a quote from a Far East shipbuilder that built both commercial and naval ships: “The Navy inspects the paperwork long after the ship has gone, while the commercial owner inspects the ship.” (For background reading, see the article What is Quality Control?)

This saying illustrates the emphasis on paperwork rather than what is actually being done in the physical process. It might also be taken as a dictum best observed from the outset on all shipping inspection projects—because a ship is a moving structure.

A project involving a fixed land structure allows the inspector to return to the site numerous times in order to gain a more intimate knowledge of the structure. But in shipping, it is rare that an inspector is able to follow the vessel all around the world. Even networks such as IICIN only provide limited uniformity of reporting and report sharing across the network.

It’s important to keep in mind that coatings are an important engineering system for any steel structure. For example, one could define a bridge as a large steel structure that is held together by a thin film of paint. The coating system really is that essential from an engineering perspective. (Marine coating systems are discussed in detail in the article Coatings for Marine Applications & Offshore Platforms.)

Get the Coating Technical File

For all engineering systems, it is imperative that “as built” records are produced. This should include a complete report of the coating process so that in the event of a failure analysis, what was actually done (against what was specified) can be determined, and the true cause of a problem can be established.

In the marine world, we refer to such a document as a "Coating Technical File" and it is one of the major steps forward that has emerged from the IMO PSPC standard.

The volume of paperwork can be daunting and there are now a number of paperless QA systems, either on the market or being developed. While these systems can increase the upfront burden of setting up a project file, once set up, they certainly make information storage and retrieval much easier. They can also incorporate compliant systems that can check that all jobs opened have been completed and closed out properly.