Ships Exploiting Regulatory Loophole to Emit SO2 Into the Ocean


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.

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