The Port of Singapore’s surprise decision to ban the discharge of scrubber-produced pollutants known as ‘wash water’ into its seas is likely to accelerate the use of LNG as marine fuel – especially in the Asia Pacific region – because of the importance of the port as a bunkering facility.
The announcement, which was made by the port’s chief executive Andrew Tan late last week at the Singapore Registry of Ships forum, means wash water from open-loop, exhaust gas scrubbers will be prohibited after IMO’s new emissions regulations apply from January 2020. The decision was made “to protect the marine environment and ensure that the port waters are clean,” said Mr Tan.
Under the impending regulations, those vessels fitted with open-loop systems will have to use compliant fuel while ships with hybrid scrubbers must switch to the closed-loop mode of operation.
Studies, including from the European Union’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), have found the 'residues' in exhaust gas wash water lead to ocean acidification. Mr Tan promised the port would provide reception facilities for scrubber residues. Simultaneously, Singapore will also put enforcement measures in place to back its ruling.
Scrubber advocacy organisation Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems Association (EGCSA) took issue with the way Singapore made its decision, saying in a statement "The MPA provided neither scientific evidence for its decision nor was the industry invited to consultation. If there had been discussion, the Singapore MPA might have realised the high risks to human health resulting from the high toxicity of low sulphur fuels and more toxic distillates if no exhaust gas cleaning systems are used."
Singapore's decision comes at a time when a flurry of contracts are being signed for retrofitting every kind of scrubber, including open-loop systems, in the run-up to 2020. The most recent involves Norway’s MPC Container Ships that in early December exercised options to equip an additional five vessels with exhaust gas cleaning systems. The Oslo-headquartered group has also agreed charters for six box ships that have been retrofitted with scrubbers.
Thus, Singapore’s stance on the scrubber issue highlights once again the LNG alternative. Aside from low-sulphur fuels or gas oil, the two main options for compliant vessels are the installation of a scrubber or choosing LNG as an alternative fuel. Another factor aiding a move to LNG fuel is IMO’s announcement in November that vessels without scrubbers cannot carry non-compliant, high-sulphur fuels after 2020. As concerns over the ability of the bunkering industry to store enough LNG are settled by the promise of ports such as Singapore to be ready for 2020, more shipowners are attracted to LNG or dual-fuelled engines, particularly as the price of oil rose during 2018.
Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority is bending over backwards to encourage the use of LNG. As the authority told an international bunkering conference in Singapore in October, Singapore is adopting several pro-LNG measures including expanding the LNG bunkering focus group from the original three members in 2014 to 11, the latest member to join being the Suez Canal Economic Zone Authority. The authority also recently joined the Sea/LNG coalition that aims to increase the global supply chain for the fuel.
“By joining Sea/LNG, the authority hopes to foster greater confidence in the availability and reliability of LNG as a marine fuel now and in the future,” the authority told the conference.