SMOKE emissions are a common sight. Shipping is required to implement a global sulphur limit of 0.50% mass/mass from January 1 instead of the 3.5% m/m global limit. Terry Hutson
Durban - In a little less than a month IMO 2020, the date for all ships to comply with low sulphur oil requirement, takes effect on January 1.

In the words of the IMO (International Maritime Organisation), this “is a landmark decision for both the environment and human health”.

IMO 2020 requires international shipping to implement a global sulphur limit of 0.50% mass/mass from January 1 instead of the current 3.5% m/m global limit. It is intended to reduce ship exhaust emission levels to an eventual zero limit by 2050.

The 100 000 or so ships at sea produce a significant amount of pollution, as smoke emissions and from ballast water over the side.

Measures being introduced aim at gradually reducing the aerial pollutants to zero, with January's deadline bringing the permissible levels from 3.5% to 0.50%.

Among the measures being taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and approved by the IMO are the use of LNG (liquefied natural gas), marine biofuels, marine gas oil (distillates) and the continued burning of marine fuel oil combined with using open or closed-loop scrubbers.

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) states that, until further notice, South Africa accepts all types of scrubbers. Nor does it have restrictions on ships using LNG or marine biofuel, subject to availability.

The introduction of LNG-powered ships is under way but is in its infancy, leaving scrubbers to carry the burden of meeting the approaching international deadline.

Only a small percentage of international shipping will be equipped to meet the deadline, despite there having been ample time to implement the necessary changes to ships, that is the installation of scrubbers.

About a year ago, MSC announced it had signed contracts for 80 of its container ships to have scrubbers installed - other lines have been doing the same, along with surcharges that were immediately introduced to offset the costs.

One of the challenges, however, is that a high percentage of ships in operation are not owned but are chartered vessels - this applies equally to container and non-container vessels.

The onus of fitting scrubbers is thus on the owner. To give an example, Maersk, the world's largest container carrier, operated a fleet of 703 ships at the end of September, of which 307 are owned with the rest chartered.

Similar comparisons apply to almost every other container line.

According to classification society and registrar DNV GL, less than 4000 ships have so far had scrubbers installed, with most of them opting for open-loop scrubbers and a mere 23 for the more environmentally-friendly closed-loop system.

It seems highly likely that many of the ships calling at South Africa’s ports from January 1 will not be in compliance with IMO 2020, unless they switch to using diesel as a fuel.

Despite assurances to the contrary, it seems unlikely that the necessary legislation to apply the new rules will be enacted by South Africa before the deadline.

For that matter, will the South African bunker industry have the capability of providing compliant fuel types by the deadline? Samsa says the International Bunker Industry Association says it will.

Earlier this year, Samsa, in Marine Notice 8 of 2019, said that there had been no firm commitment by the bunker suppliers to import low sulphur fuels, a situation that may have since changed.

In the past week, a new entrant into the bunker supply industry announced its arrival - black-empowered DNG Energy, which will commence LNG bunkering operations next year.

An 8000-tonne LNG bunker barge is under construction for DNG Energy at the Durban SA Shipyards. This will take up duties in Algoa Bay during next year. More about this venture on another occasion.

The question of using scrubbers is something that requires more space than is available here. A scrubber consists of an exhaust-cleaning system, which allows ships installed with scrubbers to continue burning high-sulphur bunker fuel while complying with the 0.5% sulphur limit.

The scrubber sprays alkaline water, in this case seawater, into the exhaust emissions which removes most of the pollutants constituents. Two main kinds of scrubbers may be used, open-loop or closed-loop.

Open-loop allows the discharge of the washwater to the sea. Closed-loop requires retaining the seawater in tanks onboard for disposal ashore.

The use of open-loop scrubbers is not clear-cut, however, with serious questions being asked about its environmental effect. These concern the discharge of polluted water to the ocean, especially if this is done close to coastlines.

The IMO has issued guidelines regarding the discharge of washwaters but this has not allayed the fears, so much so that an increasing number of countries have banned the use of open-loop scrubbers within their territorial waters. Malaysia is the latest nation to do so, joining others like Singapore and China and at least six European countries as well as several US states. Significantly, South Africa’s Samsa's clearance for all types to be used adds the words “until further notice”.

Terry Hutson keeps a beady eye on shipping activities, but particularly those related to Africa and South Africa. For shipping activities, news and schedules please contact him at 082 331 5775, email [email protected] or visit the website www.africaports.co.za for ships in port and other maritime-related data.