Rust and Mould – The RCN remains ever vigilant

Regardless of the type of ship operating at sea, there are two ever-present challenges that require constant vigilance to ensure they are appropriately dealt with – rust and mould. While both are naturally occurring processes and the conditions at sea are ideal for them, they are manageable. The RCN takes these two issues very seriously because if not effectively managed they can affect the health and safety of our sailors, and the effectiveness of its ships.

The RCN has a very broad and comprehensive strategy in place to appropriately manage rust and mould issues. ‎The first line of defense is prevention. With hundreds of sailors living in confined spaces at sea for weeks at a time, moisture and humidity are an always present companion, and as such provide ideal conditions for the onset of rust and mould. This is why “cleaning stations” are a daily occurrence at sea. Through such measures the RCN ensures a hygienic standard of habitability is maintained in all its ships. To ensure standards are met in each ship, the executive officer and the coxswain conduct evening rounds (inspections) of all mess decks, heads and wash places (bedrooms and washrooms). More thorough inspections occur in the form of Captain’s rounds that are conducted on a regularly scheduled basis.

When issues of rust or mould are noted in a ship, an action plan is put together and measures are taken to deal with them. Key enablers in this process are members of the preventative medicine and the maintenance communities. Together, these teams help more thoroughly identify the issue and develop remediation measures.

‎Some of the fixes seem rather obvious, such as in the heads and wash places where many components of the space are fabricated out of stainless steel and additional ventilation is provided.

In some instances the fix is more complex and a more comprehensive plan is required. For example, when concerns about mould in the frigates were identified during their mid-life refit, a number of engineering projects were launched to ensure the health and safety of our sailors. These projects were aimed at improving air circulation, condensate drainage, and overall HVAC system performance in all 12 frigates.

The Chief Engineer of the RCN is also proceeding with the acquisition of air quality monitors for installation in frigates and a new mould ‎prevention technology which may have merit. He has also directed that the HVAC planned maintenance regime be briefed to him every six months to ensure the required outcomes are being achieved.

In 2016, the CAF Deployable Health Hazard Assessment Team was engaged to conduct an indoor air quality assessment (IAQA) of our ships. The first IAQA was completed on HMCS Winnipeg and it determined that acceptable levels of commonly occurring mould were found on board the ship, however higher levels were located in three compartments where an elevated presence of water and organic matter were contributing factors. The mitigation strategy for these three spaces included increased ventilation, frequent surface cleaning, and regular filter checks.

In conclusion, although it is impossible to completely eliminate rust and mould at sea, it is absolutely essential to have a comprehensive strategy to manage them to safeguard the health and safety of our sailors. ‎The RCN leadership is seized with ensuring our sailors have the trust and confidence that they are working in a healthy and safe environment. Many important steps have been taken and the RCN will continue to actively address the underlying conditions that have contributed to the rust and mould found in some of its ships, and it remains committed to the completion of all remediation initiatives. The health and safety of its sailors is of vital importance to the fleet, and all efforts, preventive and corrective, will be pursued to realization.

The following technical adjustments and engineering changes are currently being implemented:

  • To address poor water drainage conditions across the platforms, primary air conditioning system drainage modifications are now complete in all 12 Halifax-class frigates;
  • The upgrades of the air conditioning system controls from pneumatic to electronic are now complete in two of twelve Halifax-class frigates and are expected to be complete fleet-wide by 2021;
  • Primary Air Rebalancing trials (work necessary to re-balance the HVAC supply system to deliver air at the required flow-rate based on the design requirement of each space) are expected to be complete fleet-wide in 2020. These trials have been successfully completed on HMCS Fredericton and efforts to complete the remainder of the frigates are currently underway; and
  • Specific direction with respect to the operation of the steam system has been provided to the Formation Technical Authorities and will continue to mature through the Marine Systems Operations and Maintenance Conferences.

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