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ECAs: Ponderous Regulators are a Threat

By MarEx 2014-11-22 14:56:00

Op-Ed by Don Gregory, director Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems Association (EGCSA)

Flexible and timely compliance options needed

"The European Commission's proposal for sulphur reduction in marine fuels is intended to be both flexible and neutral as regards the way in which compliance with the new limits can be achieved, leaving the choice of the most appropriate technology to the operators. Nevertheless, compliance needs to be achieved on time and at the scale required while minimising any possible unwanted collateral effects"

So says a paragraph from a European Commission staff working paper published in September 2011. 

Two months to go and...

The maximum allowable sulphur in fuel will be reduced from 1.00 percent to 0.1 percent in the Baltic, North Sea and North American Emission Control Areas. So where are we now in terms of the preparedness of the regulators and the organisations that work on their behalf in Europe.

The Commission has set up the European Sustainable Shipping Forum, a formal organisation comprising a plenary of 32 stakeholders from across the maritime industry, a secretariat and 5 expert sub groups, including one that will consider seawater-scrubbing technology. The purpose of the ESSF is "to advance the implementation of the Sustainable Waterborne Transport Toolbox"!

The Toolbox is in effect the options that enable ship operators to comply with the European Directive on the Sulphur Content of Marine Fuels i.e. scrubbers, LNG etc. The Directive implements and in some cases goes beyond the revised MARPOL Annex VI, which was adopted by IMO 6 years ago in 2008.

Why so long?

Time to take a deep breath. IMO Guidelines on the certification of scrubbers and the confirmation of compliance in service have been in place since 2009 and yet with just 2 months to go administrators in Europe are still addressing some vital points of regulatory detail.

It can be said that this is a very positive sign of the accelerating adoption of scrubbing systems and issues that have just come to light are now being actively resolved. However for the scrubber suppliers it is of significant frustration and begs the question why have the regulators taken so long to act?

Absurd Catch-22

A typical example involves the initial testing of a ship's scrubber washwater discharge for its maximum pH and nitrate content before certification can be finalised. To undertake this task residual fuel with a sulphur content of up to 3.50 percent must be used, but the regulations do not allow high sulphur fuel to be consumed unless the scrubber is certified. 

There is a legal workaround by designating mature technology scrubbers as trial equipment, however what makes EGCSA members angry is that not only is there this absurd Catch-22 situation, but also some classification societies are making life more difficult by insisting on unnecessary testing with high sulphur fuel to confirm scrubber SOx emission abatement performance.

Class must be responsible

The IMO scrubber guidelines were developed so that scrubbers could be initially certified in one of two ways. Scheme A is based on measuring the system's emissions reduction performance during initial certification testing and then if the system is maintained and operated as originally certified, compliance is assumed without the need for emissions monitoring.

On the other hand, Scheme B (which is used by the vast majority of scrubber suppliers) treats the scrubber as a black box and the emissions to air are measured on a continual basis using certified analysers. This enables scrubber system flexibility and ensures compliance at all times

Unfortunately some classification societies are insisting on Scheme A testing even if Scheme B is to be used. It is easy to say that this ensures environmental protection, but of course it adds unnecessary costs and delays. Class undoubtedly has a position of power and expertise within the industry, however this comes with a need for neutrality and a wider responsibility, particularly as time is now of the essence.

Speed and pragmatism urged

While some classifications societies have actively promoted other means of compliance through the industry press, now is the time to work within the existing IMO scrubber guidelines to ensure sensible outcomes are quickly achieved for the greater benefit of all.

Onerous ways of working are not helpful when ship operators have made or are considering significant investment in systems from EGCSA members who are some of the biggest and most respected suppliers in the industry.

EGCSA urges regulators and those applying the regulations to recognise the need for speed, clarity and pragmatism. The currently ponderous approach is at odds with the EC's original aims and threatens the decision making and preparations of ship operators, who are now making ready for January and beyond.