Operators of vessels with scrubber installations say regulatory compliance depends on efficient maintenance and training to overcoming operational issues
The human factor is one of the most important elements to be addressed when dealing with exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCSs, also known as scrubbers), according to three ship operators who spoke at the Clean Shipping Alliance 2020 (CSA2020) general assembly and technical seminar in Brussels in November.
CSA2020 is an industry body formed in September 2018, comprising operators of scrubber-using vessels from the worlds of commercial and cruise shipping. The three companies represented combined experiences from the roro, passenger ferry, cruise and car carrier sectors, among others, and all three have several years’ experience in operating scrubbers on their vessels.
Carnival’s vice president of marine technology Chris Millman noted that a lot of teething troubles with scrubbers could be attributed to incorrect operations and maintenance, so Carnival has invested in people and training to remedy this. As well as providing computer-based training and simulation to enable crew to familiarise themselves with how scrubbers operate and to practise different types of start-up, shutdown and troubleshooting, Carnival has also appointed a dedicated EGCS engineer on vessels fitted with scrubbers.
This engineer’s prime responsibility is to ensure that the maintenance regimes are followed and maintenance and inspection routines are followed rigorously. “We found at the outset it was difficult for people to take ownership of the [scrubber] systems on board,” Mr Millman explained. “They need to be properly monitored and maintained, so we introduced this as an additional position on board. And it has paid dividends.”
Noting that the different operating regimes and regulations in force in different areas can be challenging for seafarers, Mr Millman explained that Carnival’s vessels are also provided with remote support: “We are not just reliant on ships themselves to make sure they’re in compliance. We’re actually monitoring that at a fleet operations centre so we can see if any of the ships are operating out of compliance and intervene if necessary.”
Grimaldi’s energy saving manger Dario Bochetti echoed Mr Millman’s sentiments, noting that with something like an LNG conversion, crew undergo a drastic change in mindset, while with a scrubber they may perceive it as important but not as such a dramatically different piece of equipment in terms of necessity of training in maintenance and operations.
“Nevertheless, it is very important how they treat it, because if it is not properly monitored you can have a problem, and from 1 January 2020 we have to be ready in the moment that there is any problem to have the right solution, in order not to go out of compliance,” he added.
DFDS director of environment and sustainability Poul Woodall agreed on the importance of training, but noted that this is always an issue with new equipment: “Like any technology, there’s a continuous maintenance process and that takes the right qualifications from the staff. So we have to make sure that the staff are properly educated by the manufacturers to deal with it, but that goes with this as with any other equipment.”
All of the operators had positive experiences in terms of scrubber reliability – Mr Woodall noted that an informal survey of DFDS vessels over a period of 12 months showed a combined offline period for scrubber systems of just under 19 hours, while Mr Millman said Carnival’s system had an availability percentage in the mid-90s and Mr Bochetti added Grimaldi Group’s downtime was less than 1% on average. Mr Woodall noted that much of the downtime experienced was due to sensor failures, rather than problems with the scrubber systems themselves.
Carnival’s initial experiences regarding reliability were similar to those of DFDS, Mr Millman said. “We shared some of the same growing pains as [Mr Woodall] mentioned, with sensors in particular that weren’t properly marinised and needed work. The manufacturers have caught up with that by and large and our equipment is now … much more reliable,” he added.
“Most of the problems we’ve had are because of installation issues,” said Mr Bochetti. He cited examples Grimaldi had discovered, such as discharge pipe and barrier system materials, and insufficient hull protection around the discharge pipe, resulting in corrosion.
Mr Millman noted that Carnival had experienced some problems with expansion joints that he attributed to possible misalignment during installation, adding, “I think it’s important to pay attention to detail during installation to ensure these things are not under stress when they are installed.”
He also advised that when a scrubber unit is not in operation, the system should be run with fresh seawater to ensure acidic water is not left in situ. He said that even when scrubber systems are not being used to clean emissions, they should be regularly run on fresh seawater to ensure they are in good working order and to avoid accumulations of soot. “It’s like any system: if you don’t use it then it becomes more problematic than if you do,” he said.
Scrubbers will be in use a lot more widely after 1 January 2020, rather than just in specific emission control areas, but even then systems on vessels with multiple engines will not be in use all the time, so it is important to attend to these issues, Mr Millman added.
Mr Woodall also noted that 2019 was the tenth anniversary of DFDS’s first scrubber installation, which now has had more than 55,000 hours of operation. Commenting on the lessons learned, he said: “The bottom line is the experience we have has been positive, and we’ll continue down that road as far as it goes. I guess by 2050 we won’t be installing any scrubbers on any ships, but the question is how far before then will we stop.”