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Sulphate scrubbers spark debate after Singapore bans their use in port

THE debate surrounding the use of scrubbers to conform with the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) new 2020 sulphur cap is intensifying as ports and shipping companies start to doubt their efficacy compared with cleaner fuel

Sulphate scrubbers spark debate after Singapore bans their use in port

THE debate surrounding the use of scrubbers to conform with the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) new 2020 sulphur cap is intensifying as ports and shipping companies start to doubt their efficacy compared with cleaner fuel

04 January 2019 - 19:00

THE debate surrounding the use of scrubbers to conform with the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) new 2020 sulphur cap is intensifying as ports and shipping companies start to doubt their efficacy compared with cleaner fuel.

Those concerns took centre stage when the port of Singapore said it would not allow the use of open-loop scrubbers, which after filtering fuel release a sludge that contains sulphates and particles into the ocean. That type has also been restricted by ports in Germany and Belgium, reported Bloomberg.



'There's a whole range of environmental, regulatory and operational reasons which lead us to be very very sceptical of this technology,' said Belgian shipping company Euronav investor relations manager Brian Gallagher. It requires 'an economic investment with very limited visibility on return.'



Euronav says it would have to pay US$5 million per ship to get scrubbers installed on its largest crude carriers. An alternative would be to switch from heavy fuel oil to more expensive low-sulphur fuel after the 2020 deadline. However, when shippers can't run on traditional fuel without scrubbers, no one knows what the price difference will be.



Mr Gallagher said the company's discussions with refineries suggest that the premium will be below the $300 a ton that some have predicted.



Singapore's decision would substantially address problems caused by heavy fuel oil, including the risk of disastrous oil spills and 'not just put a band-aid on it, which it feels like these scrubbers are doing,' he said. Ships could take sludge onshore and dispose of it in a more responsible way.



Shipping companies that have embraced scrubbers, including Denmark's D/S Norden A/S, argue that the resulting sulphate is 'a naturally occurring constituent of seawater' and not harmful to oceans.



As the debate rages over cheaper fuel, many shippers plan to have scrubbers installed. Even sceptics like AP Moller-Maersk has decided to fit the equipment on a small portion of its carriers. Suppliers such as Watseka have large order books and will be running on full capacity next year.



'We are fairly fully booked for 2019,' said the Helsinki-based company's head of marine business Roger Holm. 'For 2020 we have space so that's not a problem but of course we are selling all the time.'



'If we're wrong, and if in six, nine or 12 months all of those issues have been put to bed and there's 50 scrubbers that are working perfectly well, then our Plan B would be to invest in the technology,' he said.


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