MARPOL Sulphur Emissions Countdown

As we are a year away from the MARPOL sulphur emissions cap coming into force, Houlder Principal Marine Engineer, David Edwards has reviewed the industry options and choices to date. If you are operating affected vessels, we trust the below proves a useful snapshot of the industry as a critical 12 months begins.

“The limit in Sulphur Emissions Control Areas (SECAs) and European waters and ports of 0.1% m/m is set to stay, but the global cap on sulphur emissions from fuel oils will be reduced from the present level of 3.5% m/m to 0.5% m/m as of 2020.” explains David (pictured).

sulphur emissions

“To achieve compliance with the lower target, ocean going ship operators are currently evaluating three major options – switching to low sulphur fuels; adopting LNG as fuel or ‘scrubbing’ sulphur emissions from exhausts.

Switching to low sulphur marine gas oils (LSMGO) or newer sulphur fuel oils (LSFO) is a viable option for many although the availability of the latter will be a deciding factor. There are differing thoughts on the matter, with an IMO study confirming that that there will be enough LSFO available by 2020 whereas a recent BIMCO study suggests otherwise. Shell are of the opinion that many refiners are still unprepared to meet the requirement, though believe it is not too late to implement solutions. BP too expects over 90% of the global LSFO bunker market will be able to comply by 2020 with the freight market balancing any issues with local refineries.

The good news is LSMGO is already widely available with a proven supply chain. It is, however, likely to remain a relatively expensive fuel option and its use comes with technical requirements such as additional lubrication.

Converting to LNG as fuel has mainly been adopted for new build projects such as Caledonian MacBrayne’s latest ferries (designed by Houlder). Overall, 11% of new builds on order (not including gas carriers) will have LNG as the fuel.

The cost of retro-fitting LNG as fuel systems to existing vessels is prohibitive to many with only a handful of reported tanker, bulk carrier and ferry projects to date. Spanish operator Baleària, for example, has carried out conversions to two of six ferries in a 12 million Euro project, notably supported by the European Union Connecting Europe Facility (CEF). Operational challenges faced by LNG also include the requirement for specially trained crew and the relatively slow development of bunkering infrastructure.

By far the most common choice, therefore, is to fit one of the engine scrubber systems currently available. There are three main types:

  • Open loop – using seawater, natural alkalinity of the water used to remove SOx, with water return to sea. No additional chemicals required.
  • Closed loop – using freshwater with the addition of alkaline chemicals to remove SOx. Chemicals and freshwater need to be replenished. There is no discharge to the sea.
  • Hybrid – using an open loop system in the deep sea and a closed loop system in coastal areas and ports.

Approximately 1,000 vessels have had fitted scrubbers to date and a marked increase in orders from owners and operators in the last two months of 2018 was noted. Wärtsilä alone reported 415 contracts for scrubbers in 2018 (42 cruise ships, 17 RoPax ferries, 128 bulk cargo vessels and 114 container ships). Newport Shipping Group has purchased 100 systems from Weihai Puyi of China, with the option of a further 100. They have 87 contracts in place for the first batch.

The cruise vessel industry seems to be leading the pack, with demand there now slowing as many of their fleets have already been done. Carnival have 62% of their fleet already fitted, for example.

Overall, however, the picture is less rosy and it is unlikely the majority of existing vessels will be retrofitted before the deadline. Only 25% of new builds will have them fitted in time.

There are concerns leading many to delay before committing to a solution. Pollution issues from wash-water in coastal waters and harbours are now growing, with the possibility that the operation of “Open Loop” scrubbers being banned in these areas. Recently Singapore has announced a ban on open loop scrubbers discharging scrubber wash water in port after 2020. Norway is considering the banning of scrubbers in their heritage fjords altogether, with only the burning of 0.1% m/m sulphur fuel being permitted.

Delay might also be due to concerns over the reliability of supporting structures such as scrubber towers and wash-water piping and valves. Repair or replacement rates seem high already. There is some logic to waiting to see what installation lessons can be learned from early adopters.”

David concludes “While there are clearly valid reasons to feel hesitant, the realisation that the sulphur emissions cap comes into force in just under twelve months is focusing the mind. Our clients are talking to us about retro-fitting of scrubbers and we can provide independent help with equipment selection and installation survey, design and project management services.

Our expertise and recent experience in new vessel design mean we have insights into LNG as fuel to share too. We believe our industry’s desire to use clean fuel to drive environmental sustainability is genuine and 2020 feels a key industry milestone. It will be fascinating to see how preparations play out.”

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