The MSC Branka arrives in Durban. Trevor Jones
DURBAN - Just over two weeks ago (Network, January 23) we reported on one of the challenges facing our ports, and Durban in particular, involving new International Maritime Organisation (IMO) rules concerning ship exhaust emissions.

From January 1 next year all shipping will be required to use fuel oil in their engines with a sulphur content of no more than 0.5%m/m. The current limit is 3.5%, which has been in effect since January 1, 2012.

However, in addition to alternative fuels with low sulphur content, or lique- fied natural gas, shipping companies will be able to introduce methods of “cleaning” the exhaust fumes before they leave the ship, thus to some extent avoiding the need for expensive low-sulphur fuels.

The cleaning or “scrubbing” of fuels is proving somewhat controversial. This applies to ships using so-called open-loop scrubbers, in which the natural alkalinity in seawater is utilised in spraying the exhaust fumes as the fumes leave the ship. The seawater is subsequently discharged back into the sea.

While it would appear that scrubbing technology is rapidly becoming the preferred method of “cleaning” ship exhausts on existing vessels, an increasing number of authorities, including several key ports, are responding to the impact of scrubbers in their waters by banning their use outright to prevent the discharge of washwater into their adjacent oceans.

One of the latest ports to announce a ban on the use of scrubbers is the UAE’s Fujairah. Singapore is another, while Californian ports have decreed that ships may make use only of distillates in complying with the IMO sulphur cap. Other US ports have prohibited the discharge of exhaust gas scrubber washwater from any ships. Several European countries have similar rules, which are likely to force ships to use distillates when sailing to the affected ports.

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), the second-largest container carrier in the world, recently revealed that it has taken a $439million (R5.8billion) loan to install exhaust scrubbers on 86 of its ships.

At the beginning of January, MSC introduced a bunker surcharge aimed at helping the company to prepare its vessels before the mandatory sulphur cap being introduced on January1, 2020.

Several other shipping lines, including Maersk and ONE (Ocean Network Express), have similarly introduced bunker surcharges, also with effect from the beginning of this year.

Maersk and MSC have each estimated that the cost of making changes to their fleet will amount to around $2m a year, which led to the already in force bunker surcharges that were met with criticism from several leading shipping and freight organisations.

While on the subject of MSC, in our first edition of Network for 2019 (January9) we reported on a pirate attack on the 2 668-TEU capacity container ship MSC Mandy, some 55 nautical miles off the coast of Cotonou, Benin, in West Africa.

Russian authorities have now revealed that the six Russian crew members, including the ship’s captain, who were abducted by the pirates and taken ashore for ransoming, have been released. The ship, with a total crew of 24 on board, was attacked and boarded by armed pirates on January 2.

The remaining crew were able to steer the ship to safety, and local authorities, including the Nigerian Navy, were alerted. However, there was no sign of the pirates and their captives, and it was assumed they had been taken into hiding ashore. It can also be assumed that ransom negotiations followed, leading to the release of the six sailors.

- THE MERCURY