Paddy Rodgers renews attacks on open-loop scrubbers

One of shipping’s most vocal opponents of scrubbers has aimed another barrage at exhaust gas cleaning systems.

Euronav boss Paddy Rodgers has spoken at many conferences this year, giving his damning verdict on scrubbers. At this company’s third quarter results today he upped the ante, giving financial, environmental and regulatory reasons for owners to avoid installing the technology, especially open-loop versions, something described as a “loop hole” to compliance with the 2020 global sulphur cap.

Installing scrubbers requires an upfront capital investment of up to $5m today with “virtually no visibility of a return on capital”, Euronav stated in a quarterly update.

“Promoters of scrubbers have used MGO as a proxy for the price of compliant fuel. Some refiners including Sinochem have recently confirmed that they will sell clean compliant fuel at a price likely to be half the difference between dirty HFO and MGO. So the investment case now has half the returns being promoted and it is still 14 months before implementation and nothing suggests this price gap will not further narrow in that time,” the tanker giant continued.

From an environmental point of view, Euronav stated the wastewater produced from open-loop scrubbers contains a “toxic cocktail” of sulphuric acid constituents, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals which are pumped into the open ocean, essentially transferring pollution from air to sea.

“Putting sulphur back into the sea reduces its natural buffering capacity,” the release observed, leading to a likely increase in ocean acidity over time.

Euronav argued that open-loop scrubbers increase CO2 emissions as cheaper fuel will incentivise owners to speed up.

Euronav also felt scrubbers could face greater regulatory scrutiny once the general public find out how they work.

“Promoters of this technology argue that the open oceans dilute waste water, rendering it harmless. But the solution to pollution is not dilution. Like plastic contamination over the years, we don’t know what the cumulative effect of this waste water will be or how it will interact with existing seaborne pollutants, particularly in congested sea-lanes like the English Channel, Malacca Straits or Baltic Sea,” the company mused.

Concluding, Euronav stated: “Refiners and oil producers have increasingly made clear that sufficient compliant fuel will be available. Scrubbers are therefore a loop hole which makes enforcement of the sulphur ban extremely complex, difficult to enforce and likely to facilitate non-compliance.”

Rodgers argued at the Global Maritime Forum in Hong Kong earlier this momnth that vessels equipped with open-loop scrubbers could well become “the ships that died of shame” once the general public finds out how this technology actually works, something that is now finally coming into the mainstream press. Yesterday, the UK’s Guardian newspaper published a critical article on open-loop scrubbers headlined ‘Thousands of ships could dump pollutants at sea to avoid dirty fuel ban’. The introduction to the report read: “Owners planning to install ‘emissions cheat’ systems to avoid having to buy cleaner, more expensive fuel”.

On the tanker markets, Rodgers was finally upbeat after a tricky year.

“The direction of travel for the large tanker market has changed from going sideways to up,” Rodgers stated in Euronav’s third quarter update. The Belgian tanker giant posted a net loss of $58.7m during the three-month period.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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