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European Commission calls for uniform regulations on exhaust gas cleaning systems

14 March 2019

In the absence of international regulations on the use of open-loop scrubbers, individual ports are taking matters into their own hands and imposing local bans. But manufacturers say these decisions have been taken too hastily and could lead to more problems than they solve…

With a growing number of port authorities moving to impose bans on open-loop scrubber wash water discharges, the European Commission has called for urgent international action to introduce harmonised rules on their use.

And a leading P&I club has urged owners of ships using open-loop scrubbers to reduce the risk of seafarers being criminalised by ensuring that crew are informed of local discharge regulations before ships visit ports with bans or restrictions.

The Gard Club said it was aware of existing or proposed discharge regulations in ports in Singapore, China, India, Belgium, Ireland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. 'Various other coastal states and ports are discussing enforcing similar bans citing the adverse effects of scrubber washwater on the marine environment,' it warned. 'It is therefore likely that the list of states/ports which currently regulate open-loop scrubber discharges in their waters will grow over time.'

The European Commission has tabled a paper at the International Maritime Organisation calling for harmonised rules to be set down to prevent major disruption to the shipping industry. 'The sooner uniform and unambiguous regulatory measures are developed and adopted, the better the potential pollution will be controlled and the less significant the economic impacts will be both on industry and administrations,' it warns.

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Scrubbers have been seen as a convenient way to cut sulphur emissions Image: Getty Images

The Commission paper – due to be discussed at the IMO's marine environment protection committee meeting in May – notes a number of recent scientific studies which have highlighted the potential environmental damage that open-loop scrubber effluent may cause.

The sooner uniform and unambiguous regulatory measures are developed and adopted, the better the potential pollution will be controlled and the less significant the economic impacts will be both on industry and administrations

It questions whether current IMO guidelines on scrubber discharges are fit for purpose and also stresses the need for adequate port reception facilities to handle sludge and wastewater from exhaust gas cleaning systems.

Meanwhile, scrubber manufacturers have urged ports and maritime administrations not to make quick decisions to ban the use of open-loop scrubbers. The Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems Association (EGCSA) said it was disappointed by new bans on washwater discharges and warned that this could set back progress on reducing emissions.

EGCSA director Don Gregory said the IMO had carefully researched scrubbers before giving the go-ahead for their use in reducing sulphur emissions. 'We urge other ports and other authorities to research the matter in depth before making hasty decisions inspired by exaggerated claims that may have a very significant, negative impact on the shipping industry,' he added.

However, one recent research report published by the German Environment Agency warned of the potentially damaging impact of polyaromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals, such as zinc, cadmium, lead and nickel, in washwater. 'Further research is needed to better quantify and evaluate the total impact on the marine environment of this new and emerging source,' it argued.


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