Environmental Groups Highlight Scrubber Malfunction

Tuesday May 14, 2019

Environmental groups have co-authored a letter to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in which the signatories urge the organisation to place "an immediate moratorium on the use of exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS)".

The moratorium should stay "while the Marine Environment and Protection Committee (MEPC) and the Pollution Prevention and Response Subcommittee continue their review of the marine and air pollution impacts of EGCS".

While critical of the environmental performance of EGCS, the letter highlights evidence from the United States to add weight to its call.

"The most pressing concern is whether these systems are capable of delivering consistent compliance with air emission regulations as the new 2020 fuel standards draw near."

Central to the letter's argument is a report released by a US judge on the performance of scrubber equipment onboard some of cruise operator Carnival's ships.

Carnival is currently under an environmental compliance programme (ECP) in the US which includes a court appointed monitor (CAM). The judge elected to make the contents of the first CAM report public.

The report said: "The CAM Team identified over thirty reported incidents on Covered [Carnival Corporation & plc] Vessels related to EGCSs during ECP Year One. Many of these incidents relate to unexpected EGCS shutdowns resulting in violations of air emission requirements."

The letter goes on to suggest that the report raises wider concerns about the efficiency of the operation of EGCS. Its findings highlight "the most significant problem with relying on this technology to meet regulatory standards" as "human error".

Given the problematic experience of operating scrubbers "on just one company", the letter states that removing EGCS as an "alternative compliance mechanism in Regulation 4 [in MARPOL Annex VI, Regulation 4 for emissions reductions equivalencies]"  should be considered in the review [of the regulations by the MEPC].

Among the non-governmental organisations supporting the letter are NABU, Transport & Environment and Friends of the Earth.

Marine scrubbers have been in use for over 15 years and, despite recent pushback on the technology, continue to be backed by state funding as a compliance route.

The MEPC is meeting in London this week.