Industry Insight: The Growing Challenges of Managing Slops Disposal: A Sustainable Alternative

by Vincent Favier, CEO, Ecoslops
Friday August 5, 2016

Pressure is mounting for ship owners. Heightened regulation on global sulphur caps, low freight rates, as well as demands from charterers and the wider industry to improve cost and environmental efficiencies and inject sustainability into the supply chain.  On top of this there's the increased challenges of complying with MARPOL 73/78, the IMO's international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships, which regulates slops disposal.  Indeed, the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) has placed ship and port waste as a 'top ten' environmental priority for European ports in 2016, and is a topic which is being highlighted more and more frequently as the global fleet grows.

Comprised of a mixture of water, hydrocarbons, sediments and various pollutants, slops are generated whenever a vessel is running its engine. Over 98 million tonnes of slops are produced every year by the commercial fleet, all of which needs to be disposed of in line with strict regulations. By law, ship owners and operators are required to dispose of slops within ports before they depart, in accordance with MARPOL 73/78 regulation and the European Union law (59/2000/EC) directive.  This does not always happen.   In early 2016, German shipping company, MST Mineralien Schiffahrt was indicted for violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships. They were accused of failing to maintain an accurate ship record about the disposal of oil-contaminated waste, and handing over falsified records to the US Coast Guard.  And then there's also the Probo Koala incident in 2006, when a trading company was accused of knowingly, and illegally 'dumping' 500 tonnes of fuel, caustic soda and hydrogen sulfide at the Ivorian Port of Abidjan. The event caused significant health and environmental issues within the local region, and highlighted the need for stricter control over slops disposal.

In recent years, the traditional route for slops disposal has become more difficult. Traditionally, slops would be sold into markets such as the construction and building industries, but the sustained drop in crude prices has encouraged buyers to purchase purer, cleaner products - no sulfur, no sediment, no metals. Slops are now building up in ports because many do not have adequate port reception facilities, which means tanks are becoming physically full. Port authorities can't authorize vessels to leave port without discharging the slops, yet they have nowhere to dispose of them. In short, the situation is threatening to interrupt shipping operations, causing downtime which no-one can afford, as well as environmental and sustainability issues within local port communities. It also serves to whet the appetite for illegal slops disposal, which has huge environmental and social ramifications.

In answer to this problem, Ecoslops has developed a micro-refining technology that sustainably treats slops, regenerating them into new fuels and light bitumen which comply with international standards, and which can be sold back into the marine and construction markets.

In April 2016, Ecoslops and The Green Award Foundation, a not-for-profit quality assurance organisation, announced an incentive agreement with Ecoslops. This will see Ecoslops provide a 25% discount to all Green Award certified ships, reducing the costs of slops disposal for ship owners, and ensuring their sustainable regeneration into valuable new fuels.

Ecoslops' first refinery within the Port of Sinès commenced industrial operation in 2015.  To date over 10,000 tonnes of slops have been regenerated, with 98% of slops converted into new fuels. By the end of 2016, the monthly production target of 2,500 metric tonnes will be reached and at least 30,000 tonnes will be produced in 2017. This success has enabled Ecoslops to fast track expansion plans, developing projects in the Port of Constanta and the Port of Abidjan, as well working on new sites in the ARA region (Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam), the Mediterranean, the Middle East and South Africa.