OPINION: The Scrubber Decision – Wildebeest of Serengeti

by Dr. R. Vis, Director, Viswa Lab
Thursday May 3, 2018

I am sure you would have seen documentaries and videos of Serengeti Park where literally thousands of Wildebeest will be gathered in one place, usually near a source of water and they will be happily grazing, unmindful of the surroundings. Suddenly, one or two Wildebeest will take off in one direction at top speed. This is the signal for the remaining thousands of Wildebeest to also take off in the same direction at hectic speeds.

What ensues is a chaotic stampede of Wildebeest falling over one another, jumping into the waterhole, getting stuck in the mud etc. These are not rare sights. Every year, this happens at least twice.

What is the relevance to the Scrubber Decision?

The Wildebeest cannot decide and they are in a state of complete complacency until it occurs to a couple of Wildebeest that they ought to take off. Why? Perhaps they get the scent of a predatory animal and they know the best course of action is to run for their lives.

In the Maritime industry the huge event of low sulfur regulations is around the corner (1.1.2020) and the risk of inaction has been sensed by a few forward‐thinking ship operators. They have taken off to capture the benefit of a buyer's market for expensive scrubbers which can be currently purchased at very low prices. Then the stampede begins. Conservatively, 15,000 scrubbers and more likely 30,000 scrubbers will have to be manufactured and fitted. The price to pay for inaction is very high. Suddenly, everybody wakes up to this truth staring at their face. It is much better to buy a scrubber, fit it and get the return on the investment in about 1 year rather than pay a high price in a sellers' market for scrubbers or go for the expensive compliant fuel.

I may be accused of a bias in favour of scrubbers because Viswa manufacturers scrubbers. I beg to differ. I have always pointed out what is the simple, straight common‐sense solution to an apparently complicated problem.

In the past I had suggested a silver bullet solution to the problem of poor bunker fuel quality ‐ the disconnection of quality and pricing of bunker fuel, just with one idea which is to always make the ship owner to buy the fuel. I dare say that this will be the panacea for all that ails the bunker industry.

My suggestion with regards to scrubber is given in the same spirit. A single obvious solution is to be preferred to multiple needlessly complicated factors brought into the analysis. This is called Occam's Razor.

There are vested interests working overtime to cause confusion. You might have heard about lawyers who say "If you cannot convince the judge and you are afraid about an unfavourable judgement, confuse him."

I welcome your comments to bunkerfuels2020@gmail.com