Scrubber Washwater Not Harmful to the Sea, Says Singapore Shipowner

Friday December 14, 2018

Singapore-based Quantum Pacific Shipping (QPS) has added its voice to those saying the operation of open-loop scrubbers is not harmful to the marine environment.

And to underline its point, the owner says it has secured a $40 million "Green Loan" from BNP Paribas to fit open-loop scrubbers on 16 of its vessels managed by Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping.

Leaving as little room for any scepticism as possible, Vigeo Eiris (who in their own words provide "decision-making support covering all sustainable and ethical investment approaches") were also brought it to provide secondary assurance that the loan was in line with the bank's Green Loan Principals for environmentally sustainable projects.

"BNP Paribas is pleased to provide this green loan to Quantum Pacific Shipping – the first green loan issued to a shipping company in Asia Pacific," said Joris Dierckx, Head for Southeast Asia and CEO, Singapore at BNP Paribas.

All units will be installed next year, and before the "IMO 2020" global 0.50% sulfur cap comes into force on January 1, 2020.

Why Scrubbers, Why Open-Loop?

As for why it decided to install scrubbers in the first place, QPS said it had determined there was a "high possibility" that there will be insufficient compliant low sulfur fuel immediately available when the new rules come into force.

Open-loop units were selected in favour of closed-loop variants as it was felt there could be issues with land-based disposal of the wastewater, QPS added.

Of course open-loop scrubbing, where wastewater is deposited directly into the sea, has come under increasing criticism in recent months, with critics saying the practice is harmful to the marine environment.

Indeed, at the end of November Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said Singapore would ban the operation of open-loop units within its waters "to protect the marine environment and ensure that the port waters are clean."

MPA has yet to respond to a request to clarify how it arrived at its position on the technology, but for the record, other maritime bodies are also looking at the technology's potential impact on water quality.

Scrubber advocates including Clean Shipping Alliance 2020 (CSA2020) and the Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems Association (EGCSA) maintain scrubber washwater is not harmful to the marine environment and have voiced their disappointment over the Singapore ban.

As for QPS, the owner says it conducted a detailed study on open-loop scrubbers, specifically seeking to identify if sulfur included in the wash-water is harmful to the sea and whether scrubbers have an acidification effect on seawater.

"Sulphur in the form of sulphate is the end product of the scrubbing process and is a naturally occurring constituent of seawater and therefore not harmful to the sea," it said.

"Compared with the quantity of sulphate existing in the oceans, the small amounts of sulphate emitted from exhaust gas scrubbing are insignificant and benign."

As for acidification, QPS says: "Direct measurements on 40 ships monitored by maritime classification societies while the ships were in port have shown that pH levels of Scrubber discharge water revert to ambient seawater pH levels within two to four meters of the discharge point in accordance with the IMO requirement."

QPS did not address levels of other potential washwater contaminants of concern to critics, such as arsenic.

Following an explosion of orders for scrubbers this year, the stage seems set for considerable further debate on open-loop scrubbers in 2019.