“Imagine how far $12-billion could have gone if it was applied towards developing and deploying technologies for zero-emissions vessels.”
A report from The Independent claims that thousands of vessels used by global shipping companies have been fitted with devices designed to fool existing environmental legislation and are dumping pollution directly into the sea, rather than into the air after it had been treated.
The report asserts that “more than £9.7-million has been spent on the devices, known as open-loop scrubbers, which extract sulphur from the exhaust fumes of ships that run on heavy fuel oil.”
These devices would pull large vessels into line with the legislation put forward by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) that comes into action on the 1st of January, 2020.
“However,” as Will Crisp explains, “the sulphur emitted by the ships is simply re-routed from the exhaust and expelled into the water around the ships, which not only greatly increases the volume of pollutants being pumped into the sea, but also increases carbon dioxide emissions.”
The report states that a total of 3,756 ships - in operation and under construction - have had their scrubbers installed, according to DNV GL, the world’s leading ship classification company. “Only 23 of these vessels have had closed-loop scrubbers installed, a version of the device that does not discharge into the sea and stores the extracted sulphur in tanks before discharging it at a safe disposal facility in a port.”
Earlier this year, China moved to ban scrubbers from all vessels traveling within 12 nautical miles of China’s territory, meanwhile Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the US have also implemented some geographical bans on vessels employing the use of a scrubber discharge system.
“The ICCT estimates that cruise ships with scrubbers will consume 4 million tonnes of heavy fuel oil in 2020, and discharge 180 million tonnes of contaminated wash water into the ocean.”
The report cites Bryan Comer, a senior researcher at ICCT says this constitutes a major environmental concern, considering the scale of the problem. The ICCT estimates that cruise ships with scrubbers will consume 4 million tonnes of heavy fuel oil in 2020, and discharge 180 million tonnes of contaminated wash water into the ocean.
“About half of the world’s roughly 500 cruise ships have or will soon have scrubbers installed,” Comer said. “Cruise ships operate in some of the most beautiful and pristine areas on the planet, making this all the more concerning,” he said.
“If you are conservative and say that ships are spending about $3 per ship to install scrubbers, at 4,000 ships, that’s $12-billion dollars of investment in a technology that enables ships to use the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel- heavy fuel oil.
“Worse, scrubbers increase fuel consumption by about 2 per cent, increasing carbon dioxide emissions. Imagine how far $12-billion could have gone if it was applied towards developing and deploying technologies for zero-emissions vessels.”
Lucy Gilliam, a campaigner with the Brussels-based NGO Transport and Environment group says that “in the North Sea and some parts of the Channel, the water quality has already been heavily degraded.”
“Wildlife in these areas is likely to be far more vulnerable to the effects of having ships discharging huge volumes of acidic, polluted, warm water from scrubbers,” she said.
“As things stand, far too few parameters are covered by existing IMO criteria for permitted discharge from scrubbers.”
According to the report, “under IMO regulations, ships are permitted to use open-loop scrubbers as what they call ‘equivalents’. These are defined as ‘any fitting, material, appliance or apparatus to be fitted in a ship or other procedures, alternative fuel oils, or compliance methods used as an alternative to that required.”
In a response to The Independent, the IMO said: “the intention behind that idea of equivalents is to allow for innovation,” and that the IMO had “adopted strict criteria for discharge of wash water from exhaust gas cleaning systems.”
The IMO concluded that it is currently “undertaking a review of the 2015 guidelines on exhaust gas cleaning systems. The guidelines include, among other things, wash-water discharge standards.”