Feb 24, 2021 | Clean shipping articles and long reads

By Alvin Forster, North P&I’s Loss Prevention Executive

The subject of scrubbers – particularly of the open-loop type – stokes quite a lot of emotion and has polarised opinion.

The North P&I Club has provided members with advice on how to best protect themselves when choosing scrubbers, providing information such as what to look out for during installation and operation and any potential impact on charterparty terms. 

At the start of this year, the business case for scrubbers did seem attractive — the cost differential between high-sulphur residuals and sulphur-compliant fuel was consistent with what many predicted. There were suggestions that the increasing number of ports and sea areas banning the use of open-loop scrubbers would make them less attractive from a financial point of view, but when you consider that the majority of a vessel’s fuel consumption is outside of these restricted areas, it is unlikely to be too much of a discouragement to a shipowner.

Then, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic happened and this price differential became slim. But as 2020 has told us, who knows what to expect over the next five-10 years, especially with regard to fuel prices. One particular challenge we face is trying to keep up with the changes in regulations on open-loop use.

North relies heavily on its correspondent network to keep the Club up to date on any new restrictions in their countries, but sometimes it is difficult to have clarity on a country’s position, especially if a referenced regulation does not specifically address scrubbers or uses all-encompassing vague terms such as “contaminated discharges”.

Apart from advising some members on scrubber installation contracts, North has had little involvement in scrubber-related claims and incidents. 

There have been a small number of instances related to warranty issues, such as equipment defects, cracks on components, brackets, and so on. However, following discussions with Dockspec Marine, which has shared its experience in scrubbers, more might be expected.

North hasn’t yet seen any claims relating to non-compliant scrubber operation with regard to the IMO2020 sulphur cap. There is a risk of shipowners incurring fines by port states if the vessel operates with a defective or non-operational scrubber, but that hasn’t materialised, as far as the Club knows.

Of course, Covid-19 has meant a much-reduced port state control presence, so it might be argued that any non-compliances would not be picked up, due to less inspections, but it could also be an early indicator of their reliability. Ports around the world are looking at the impact of scrubber use in their waters.

A number of ports and regions have already said that they will not allow the discharge of washwater from scrubbers. North has produced a roundup of its understanding of the positions taken by ports that have or will prohibit the use of scrubbers, or have placed conditions upon their use.

Click to view the list of ports prohibiting the operation of scrubbers

This article was first published in the winter print edition of Clean Shipping International

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