The European Commission (EC) is urging the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to change its rules under which liquid effluents can be discharged from marine ‘scrubbers’ into the sea.

The use of ‘scrubbers’ or exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS) is expected to grow as a result of the IMO’s global 0.5% sulphur cap on marine fuel, coming into effect on 1 January 2020 (see Editor’s Comment, OFI February 2019).

The EC would like the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee to consider its proposal when the committee meets in London from 13-17 May.

“The operation of ships installed with EGCS – particularly in port waters, coastal areas or ecologically sensitive areas – is expected to lead to a degradation of the marine environment due to the toxicity of water discharges,” the EC said in a draft submission to the IMO on 8 February.

The EC would like current guidelines harmonised, defining the areas and conditions under which liquid effluents from scrubbers can be discharged into the sea.

Ship & Bunker wrote that the EC was concerned over the environmental impact of wastewater discharge in ways not addressed by current guidelines, such as the discharge of certain metals.

“Also seen as inadequate is the current guidelines’ identical treatment of coastal and deep-sea waters in that they only stipulate discharge standards and do not specify discharge criteria specific to certain geographical areas.”

As a result, some areas like Singapore and Fujairah had introduced their own rules for scrubber wastewater discharge, and a patchwork of different rules could emerge without further guidance.

“By adopting measures applicable to all ships, the IMO will limit the proliferation of local or regional measures, which … could contribute to the administrative burden on crews,” the EC submission said. “A uniform measure will also limit the risk of prosecution and detention of ships in the context of port state control inspections.”

However, the Clean Shipping Alliance 2020 (CSA 2020) – which represents over 30 commercial and passenger shipping companies – has voiced its opposition to the EC’s proposal, saying it was needlessly creating baseless concerns at a time “when there are already very real issues in the maritime industry regarding the future availability, suitability and costs of fuels and the effects on global trade and shipping that this will have”.

“This proposal is an attempt by the EC to push forward restrictions on scrubbers, which are accepted globally by the IMO, EU and others as acceptable means of improving air emissions quality in controlled areas,” CSA 2020 executive director Ian Adams said.

The IMO’s new sulphur regulation will lower the 3.5% cap on sulphur in marine fuels to 0.5% on 1 January 2020 in areas outside current emission control areas (ECAs), where the sulphur limit is already 0.1%. Current ECAs encompass the Baltic Sea, North Sea, North America and the US Carribean.

The regulation will affect the world’s entire shipping fleet, including those carrying oilseeds and vegetable oils, and is expected to lead to a rise in freight rates.