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article imageShips using ‘cheat devices’ to bypass emissions regulations

By Karen Graham     Oct 1, 2019 in Technology
Shipping companies are using ‘cheat devices’ to avoid International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations which limit the amount of pollution vessels emit into the air, The Independent revealed in an exclusive report.
We are now living in a world where the climate crisis takes center stage in almost every aspect of our life, from bringing our own bags to the grocery store, recycling, planting trees and cutting down on the amount of food we waste. And this is good for the environment. Then we have the global shipping industry.
In early May 2018, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a U.N. agency in charge of shipping, agreed to cut total greenhouse gas emissions from shipping by at least 50 percent by 2050 and to pursue “efforts towards phasing them out entirely."
This initial strategy was adopted at a mid-April meeting in London attended by more than 100 IMO Member States. The strategy represents a framework for the Member States, setting out the future vision for international shipping and the IMO's ambitions on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Basically, in getting down to the nitty-gritty of the strategy, maritime companies around the world are going to have to find technologies that can decarbonize the 50,000-plus tankers, freighters, container vessels and ferries that make up the world’s shipping fleet.
What has been done to cut emissions?
The IMO earlier this year agreed to allow shipping and cruise companies the option of using an open-loop scrubber system to help in reducing the amount of sulfur emitted into the atmosphere in order to meet the 2020 sulfur cap on that goes into effect on January 1.
Current IMO rules allow ships to use open-loop scrubbers deeming them as “equivalents” which means that “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.” It did so “to allow for innovation,” the IMO told The Independent in a statement.
A scrubber sprays seawater or fresh water mixed with a caustic chemical into the exhaust gas stream ...
A scrubber sprays seawater or fresh water mixed with a caustic chemical into the exhaust gas stream in several stages. The pollutant – mainly sulphur dioxide – reacts with the alkaline water, forming sulphuric acid. In the case of an open-loop system, the resulting wash water is discharged back into the sea.
Here's the interesting conundrum that has resulted from the IMO's ruling. With the use of open-loop scrubbers, sulfur is extracted from the exhaust fumes of ships that run on “heavy fuel oil” - rerouting it from the air to be dumped directly into the sea.
The UK's Independent has revealed that global shipping companies have spent billions (more than $12 billion) on what they are calling "cheat devices" that extract sulfur from the exhaust fumes of ships that run on heavy fuel oil. While the vessels meet IMO requirements, they are polluting the ocean.
The sulfur emitted into the ocean not only greatly increases the volume of pollutants being pumped into the sea, but also increases carbon dioxide emissions. A total of 3,756 ships, both in operation and under order, have already had scrubbers installed according to DNV GL, the world’s largest ship classification company.
In areas and ports where open-loop scrubbing is prohibited  ships can use closed-loop systems and co...
In areas and ports where open-loop scrubbing is prohibited, ships can use closed-loop systems and collect the accumulated sludge on board for subsequent disposal at a suitable in-port facility.
However, only 23 of the vessels have closed-loop scrubbers installed. A closed-loop scrubber system does not discharge into the sea and stores the extracted sulfur in tanks before discharging it at a safe disposal facility in a port.
The ships that have been quickest to adopt the open-loop devices are the larger vessels, such as bulk carriers, container ships, and oil tankers, which have the biggest engines and have historically been the worst polluters. And for every ton of fuel burned, ships using the open-loop scrubbers will dump nearly 45 tons of warm, acidic, contaminated wastewater containing carcinogens including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals into the ocean.
The dangers of pollution
Lucy Gilliam, a campaigner for Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based NGO, says the increasing amounts of washwater will create toxic sediment around ports and could have a devastating effect on the wildlife in British waters.
“In the North Sea and some parts of the Channel, the water quality has already been heavily degraded,” she said. 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.
IMO to assess the future of open-loop scrubbers
The open-loop scrubbers have not met with universal support, as would be expected. Some IMO members have enforced regulations to prevent there use due to environmental concerns. In January 2019, the UAE’s Port of Fujairah banned open-loop scrubbers in its waters, as did authorities in Belgium, Germany, and Ireland. Parts of the US have also introduced bans to curtail the use of open-loop scrubbers.
In July, this year, China announced that it would bar scrubber discharges in all coastal regions within 12 nautical miles from its territorial sea.
Earlier this year, the IMO met and agreed to start negotiations to develop rules on the wastewater discharge of scrubbers, endorsing a proposal by the European Union to “evaluate and harmonize the development of rules and guidance on the discharge of liquid effluents from exhaust gas cleaning systems, including conditions and areas."
In response to the Independent story, the IMO told the Independent it had already “adopted strict criteria for discharge of washwater from exhaust gas cleaning systems," and would be creating " guidelines that include, among other things, washwater discharge standards.”
More about Open Loop Scrubber, shipping companies, International Maritime Organization, cheat devices, closedloop scrubbers
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