Ships Exploiting Regulatory Loophole to Emit SO2 Into the Ocean

Photo: MossandFog.com

The Independent newspaper reported yesterday the results on an investigation revealing that “shipping companies have spent billions rigging vessels with ‘cheat devices’ that circumvent new environmental legislation by dumping pollution into the sea instead of the air.”

Why This Matters:  Shifting pollution from one “medium” to another is obviously very troubling — it doesn’t meet the spirit of the rule and is particularly disturbing given the U.N.’s report last week that ocean health is in dire trouble due to climate change. The sulfur that ships are diverting from the air into the water around the ships is harmful to oceans and marine life as well as exacerbating carbon dioxide emissions.

  • This is a serious loophole in the shipping regulation that should be closed before more ships are fitted with this water-polluting technology.

How the Open Loop Scrubbers Work

According to The Independent,  each ton of fuel burned using open-loop scrubbers to take the sulfur out of the air instead results in a discharge of approximately 45 tons of warm, acidic, contaminated wastewater that contains carcinogens including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals.

Worse yet, these open-loop scrubbers will allow ships to continue to run on highly polluting heavy fuel oil rather than cleaner fuels.  The discharges will foul marine ecosystems by contaminating sediments and killing sensitive marine life such as corals.  Moreover, for cruise ships, these pollutants will be introduced into pristine marine areas making them much more contaminated as a result.  Open-loop scrubbers also increase carbon dioxide emissions because the ships with them require more fuel for their operations.  Some ports in places like China and Germany are taking matters into their own hands and prohibiting scrubber discharges into the water within their 12-mile territorial sea.

Just last week, a panel of expert scientists on climate change mitigation opportunities in the ocean suggested that if ships were to clean up their act, that could cut up to 1.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions annually by 2050.  But not if they are shifting air pollution into the ocean rather than actually reducing it.

Up Next

Interview of the Week: Anne Birch

Oysters are the unsung heroes of our oceans and estuaries. A single oyster can filter 50 gallons of water each day, while oyster reefs help protect coastal communities from erosion and storm surges and provide other marine species with habitat. In Pensacola, FL, The Nature Conservancy is leading the effort to place 33 oyster reefs […]

Continue Reading 129 words
50% of Salt Marshes at Risk of Destruction, Gullah/Geechee Nation Fights Back

50% of Salt Marshes at Risk of Destruction, Gullah/Geechee Nation Fights Back

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer A new study has found that half of the nation’s tidal marshes are at risk of being destroyed by sea-level rise, most of them along the southern coasts of the contiguous U.S. Now, members of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, whose one million residents live along coastal areas stretching from Jacksonville, North Carolina, to […]

Continue Reading 525 words
Florida Gulf Coast Facing Prolonged Algae Bloom, Threatening Ecosystems and Fisheries

Florida Gulf Coast Facing Prolonged Algae Bloom, Threatening Ecosystems and Fisheries

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer St. Petersburg, Florida, has fallen victim to what could be one of the most prolonged red tides in recent history. Hundreds of tons of dead sea life have washed up on shores as the ecological disaster takes root, and experts say the end isn’t yet in sight. Officials are trying to pinpoint […]

Continue Reading 532 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.