Shanghai: One of the areas covered by China's new scrubber ban. File Image Pixabay
China looks to have flip-flopped on its open-loop scrubbing policy.
A document released Friday by China's Maritime Safety Administration, presented as a "Notice on supervision and management of pollutant discharge control area", says that it is now forbidden to discharge scrubber wash water in the country's inland river emissions control areas and coastal control areas.
China's updated emissions control areas came into force on January 1, 2019 and requires marine fuel with a maximum 0.50% sulfur content to be burned within the designated zones.
With rumours circulating last year that China would implement such a ban, Dong Leyi, state official from China Maritime Safety Administration, said in September the rumour was unfounded and that scrubbers could be used "as long as they are in compliance with the prevailing regulation."
Scrubbers allow vessels to burn otherwise noncompliant high-sulfur bunkers and remain compliant with the relevant emission regulations. While nothing new, in mid-2018 the technology gained significant attention due to the upcoming "IMO 2020" global 0.50% sulfur cap that comes into force from January 1, 2020.
All scrubbers work by removing SOx from exhaust gases after combustion.
Open-loop scrubbers use seawater to "wash" sulfur from the exhaust gases. The washwater is then discharged back into the sea.
Closed-loop systems keep the washwater onboard for discharge at a later date in a suitable facility.
Hybrid scrubbers can operate in either mode.
That regulation permits the use of equivalent methods of compliance, such as the use of scrubbers, however this latest update effectively rules out the use of open-loop systems.
The new notice says it will be implemented as of January 1, 2019, and "the ban on the washing water of the open exhaust gas cleaning system in the waters of the control area will be announced in due course."
With some in the industry having questioned whether authorities can even effectively determine if scrubber-equipped vessels are correctly using the technology and achieving the desired level of compliance, the document also says China's maritime administrative agencies will find ships with illegal emission records through tail gas monitoring.
Left unsaid in the notice are the reasons why China has decided to ban open-loop scrubbing, but the move comes at a time the practice faces high criticism over its environmental impact.
Indeed, the move by China adds to the announcement by Singapore it will ban open-loop scrubbing in its waters from January 1, 2020 "to protect the marine environment and ensure that the port waters are clean."
Scrubber advocates such as the Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems Association (EGCSA) and fellow scrubber advocacy group CSA2020 who both criticised the move by Singapore, maintain that scrubber wastewater is not harmful to the marine environment.
But the move by China is likely to be welcomed by scrubber critics, who were quick to call the move by Singapore a "victory".