Tag Archives: IMO

How Air Pollution Infiltrates the Seas

A global effort to curb pollution from the heavy fuel oil burned by most big ships appears to be encouraging water pollution instead. A 2020 regulation aimed at cutting sulfur emissions from ship exhaust is prompting many owners to install scrubbing systems that capture pollutants in water and then dump some or all of the waste into the sea.

Some 4 300 scrubber-equipped ships are already releasing at least 10 gigatons of such wastewater each year, often in ports and sometimes near sensitive coral reefs…. The shipping industry says pollutants in the waste don’t exceed national and international limits, and that there’s no evidence of harm. But some researchers fear scrubber water, which includes toxic metals such as copper and carcinogenic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, poses a rapidly growing threat, and they want to see such systems outlawed.

The emerging debate is the result of a 2020 regulation put into place by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), an arm of the United Nations that works with 174 member states to develop common rules for international shipping. By banning the use of sulfur-heavy fuel oil, the rule intended to reduce pollutants that contribute to acid rain and smog. IMO estimated the rule would slash sulfur emissions by 77% and prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths from air pollution in ports and coastal communities.

But cleaner fuel can cost up to 50% more than the sulfur-rich kind, and the rule allows ship owners to continue to burn the cheaper fuel if they install scrubbers. In 2015, fewer than 250 ships had scrubbers (often to comply with local regulations); last year, that number grew to more than 4300, according to industry figures.

A scrubber system sends exhaust through a meters-tall metal cylinder, where it is sprayed with seawater or freshwater, depending on the type, at rates comparable to gushing fire hydrants, to capture pollutants. In the most popular systems, called open loop scrubbers, seawater is discharged to the ocean after little or no treatment. Other systems retain sludge for disposal on land and release much smaller (but more concentrated) amounts while at sea….Researchers are particularly worried about discharges in areas that IMO has designated as ecologically sensitive. The Great Barrier Reef, for example, receives about 32 million tons of scrubber effluent per year because it’s near a major shipping route for coal. Ships also release scrubber water around the Galápagos Islands….

Ports see substantial discharges, too. Cruise ships dominate those releases, contributing some 96% of discharges in seven of the 10 most discharge-rich ports. Cruise ships typically need to burn fuel in port to continue to operate their casinos, heated pools, air conditioning, and other amenities. Most ports have shallow water, so pollutants are less diluted and can accumulate more rapidly….

Researchers, who are participating in a €7.5 million European effort to study shipping pollution called EMERGE, would like to study how scrubber water affects fish larvae.

But shippers have become hesitant to share samples and data with scientists. “We’re reluctant to give it to organizations which we know have already an established agenda,” says Mike Kaczmarek, chairman of the Clean Shipping Alliance 2020

The ultimate solution is to require ships to use the cleanest fuel, called marine gas oil. In the meantime, 16 countries as well as some localities have banned the most common scrubbers.

Excerpts from Erik StokstadShipping rule cleans the air but dirties the water, Science, May 13, 2021

The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) study, released on April 9, 2021

Scrubbing Sulfur Pollution

From January 2020, the United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) will ban ships from using fuels with a sulphur content above 0.5%, compared with 3.5% now.The rules herald the biggest leap in how ships are powered since they switched from burning coal to oil over a century ago, but vessels will still be allowed to use higher-sulphur fuel if fitted with cleaning devices called scrubbers.  Closed-loop scrubbers keep most of the water used for sulphur removal onboard for disposal at port. Open-loop systems, however, remove sulphur coming through a ship’s smokestack with water that can then be pumped overboard.

Years of studies have examined whether open-loop scrubbers introduce into waterways acidic sulphur harmful to marine life, cancer-causing hydrocarbons, nitrates leading to algal blooms and metals that impair organ function and cause birth defects.  The results have largely been inconclusive and the IMO itself has encouraged further study into the environmental impact of scrubbers.

The stated aim of the new IMO measures is to improve human health..  A study in the journal Nature last year found ship emissions with current sulphur levels caused about 400,000 premature deaths from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease as well as around 14 million childhood asthma cases every year.

Singapore and Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates have banned the use of open-loop scrubbers from the start of next year. China is also set to extend a ban on scrubber discharge to more coastal regions. 

Excerpts from Noah Browning, Going overboard? Shipping rules seen shifting pollution from air to sea, Reuters, Oct. 21, 2019

The Price of Banning Dirty Fuels for Ships

A strict sulfur limit for marine fuels is starting in 2020.  US refiners say they have been preparing for the International Maritime Organization’s 0.5% sulfur cap for a dozen years by making billions of dollars of investments to their plants. They also think US oil producers are well positioned to meet new global demand for lower-sulfur fuels.

Despite the industry’s confidence, Gulf Coast refiners are nevertheless skittish about one major wild card.  The January 1, 2020 implementation date comes right in the middle of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, and this White House has shown a particular sensitivity to pump prices and their impact on voters.  Trump administration sources told the Wall Street Journal in October that the White House was considering ways to delay the IMO’s 0.5% sulfur cap beyond the long-scheduled January 1, 2020, implementation date. The story alone sent the stock market value of five US refining companies down by a combined $11 billion – hence their skittishness.

Within weeks of the story, trade groups for refiners, oil and gas producers, LNG exporters and steelworkers created the Coalition for American Energy Security to educate White House officials and members of Congress about IMO 2020 and what US industries were already doing to prepare… “The American energy industry is ready to dominate the global market for these new fuels, and timely implementation is critical to achieving that objective.”  said Ken Spain, spokesman for the Coalition for American Energy Security..

Excerpts from Insight from Washington: US refiners worry about White House wild card as IMO 2020 nears, S&P Global The Barrel, Mar. 11, 2019

Greening the Shipping Industry

The shipping industry faces the cost of complying with a deluge of new rules(issued by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)). To make matters worse, it is in the middle of a slump caused by too many ships chasing too little trade.  As the deadlines for all these rules approach, shipping bosses are firing off distress flares. Masamichi Morooka, chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), a lobby group, lamented on March 19th that the cost could run into “hundreds of billions” of dollars. He begged regulators to take into account the dire state of shipping

One of the first big expenses will be for cleaner fuel. Ships used to burn the cheap, unrefined crud, laden with sulphur and other nasties, that is left over when oil is refined. The fine soot that such fuel gives off can cause premature deaths from asthma and heart attacks. So in 2005 the IMO started to limit the sulphur content of maritime fuel, especially in “emission-control areas” along heavily populated coasts in North America and Europe. These limits are set to be tightened drastically,  Such fuels currently cost about 50% more than unrefined “residual” grades…

Shipping firms are also under pressure to cut their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The IMO reckons that ships cause about 2.7% of total man-made emissions, a bit more than planes but a lot less than cars and trucks. Under a convention it has brought into force this year, ships will have to introduce fuel-economy measures with the aim of reducing their emissions by 20% by 2020 and 50% by 2050….

The IMO is also pressing on with planned new rules on cleaning up ships’ ballast water. These may come into effect this year, once enough national governments have signed up for them. A study last year in the Journal of Marine Engineering and Technology* reckoned that around 60,000 ships worldwide would need refitting with one or more cleansing units, costing up to $1.7m each. In that case, shipping firms could be whacked with a bill of the order of $50 billion…

New proposals to make shipping greener, and push it further into the red, keep popping up. This week the European Parliament’s environment committee backed proposals for recycling levies on vessels calling at EU ports. This would pay for safer scrapping of old ships, which can contain asbestos and other toxic materials….

At a conference in Athens recently John Platsidakis, a Greek shipping boss who chairs an association of bulk-cargo operators, grumbled: “We carry 90% of world trade and we emit only 2.7% of the CO2 but still we are treated as if we are acting with indifference to the environment.”…[A]irlines, for example, have lobbied more shrewdly than shipping firms. But then again, the shipping industry is bigger and more fragmented than aviation, making it harder for it to present a united front. Many small, family-owned shipping firms have publicity-shy bosses and lack the sophisticated public-relations machines that giant firms deploy….[T]he ICS seeks to represent the entire global merchant-shipping fleet with just 20 people. The industry’s sluggish lobbying has meant that rules get passed before it has a chance to object to them. And once they are passed, it is much harder to get them changed.

The shipping industry: Sinking under a big green wave, Economist, Mar. 30, 2013, at 69

It Can Cost Your Life: Shipping Minerals

A dark underbelly exists in Indonesia’s thriving trade with China. Since late 2010 five ships loaded with Indonesian minerals have sunk when bound for China, with huge loss of life. Little has been done to break the deadly trend. Indeed, plenty of interests have an incentive to hush it up. The latest ship to founder is the Harita Bauxite, a bulk carrier which sank on February 17th near the Philippines. Of its 24 crew, who were all or mainly from Myanmar, ten were rescued, one of whom later died. Fourteen were still missing when the search was called off two weeks later.

The vessel is thought to have been carrying nickel ore, a potentially deadly cargo, loaded on Obi island in the remote Indonesian province of Muluku and destined for China’s steel mills. In terms of the global bulk trade, shipments of nickel ore from Indonesia to China are tiny: just 2m-3m tonnes out of more than 4 billion tonnes of bulk goods carried each year on over 9,000 vessels. Yet this backwater trade accounted for four of the 20 bulk freighters lost worldwide during 2010-11, and for 66 of 82 deaths, according to Intercargo, an association of ship owners.

ll four ships were found to have sunk because the cargo had liquefied. Nickel ore is dangerous because if it gets too wet, the fine, claylike particles that are often present in the ore turn the cargo to a liquid gloop that sloshes about the holds with such momentum that even a giant ship can capsize. The four ships had loaded during Indonesia’s rainy season. The ore is typically stockpiled in the open. Quite how the Harita Bauxite foundered is not yet clear, but if liquefaction was a factor, as many in the shipping industry suspect, it will have been another entirely avoidable tragedy.

Preventing liquefaction should be fairly simple. It involves checking the moisture content of susceptible commodities. If they are too wet, a surveyor will deem the cargo unsafe and not to be loaded. Time and again in Indonesia, checks have been inadequate. With the bulk-shipping business in the doldrums, the profitable nickel trade is a siren call for ship owners and charterers. Indonesia’s ministers and mandarins in Jakarta, the capital, refuse to comment on the tragedies and have done little to tighten policing at faraway ports in Sulawesi, Muluku and Papua.

Ship captains report intimidation by miners and agents if they refuse to accept cargo. A leading marine insurer says the ports’ remoteness makes it hard to sample cargoes reliably. Local officials turn a blind eye to unsafe practices. Peter Lundahl Rasmussen at Bimco, a maritime association, says surveyors trying to do their job have been assaulted or arrested.

With insurance claims mounting, shipping bodies and insurers have issued plenty of instructions about how to load nickel ore safely, especially in Indonesia. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the UN agency responsible for shipping safety, is also taking steps to tighten the regulations for commodities that can suffer liquefaction.

But the IMO’s process is a glacial one, and the new rules will not clear its various committees and be promulgated until at least 2015. Even then, the organisation relies on its members to enforce regulations. In Indonesia, in other words, the impact of tighter rules may be minimal. Moreover, existing and planned legislation covers ore depots and the ports, but not the transit between the two, where rain may do its dangerous work. Steve Cameron at RTI, a risk consultancy, argues that it would be more effective if mining companies faced charges of corporate manslaughter for not ensuring that their ore reaches ships in good condition.

Shipping: Deadly Trade, Economist, Mar. 23, 2013, at 46.