Nitesh Ranvah discusses the issues involved in retrofitting and maintaining scrubbers, highlighting the importance of planning and the impact such technology can have on crew
Tanker Shipping & Trade: What are the challenges facing shipping companies when it comes to retrofitting scrubbers?
Nitesh Ranvah: What we are seeing is a bottleneck. Even though the scrubbers and the yard slots are booked, the supply of engineering support is becoming tight. There is not the capacity to meet the spike in demand. Across shipping this is the biggest challenge since the introduction of double-hull tankers, which was phased in over a much longer time.
As a supplier of engineering and design, [we are seeing] a shortage of experienced personnel in the yards and a shortage of scrubbers. The first roadblock is at the retrofitting stage. No two vessels are alike; even the retrofitting of scrubbers in sister ships presents challenges on a case-by-case basis. The way around the roadblock is to plan early.
In most other aspects, shipowners are very good at planning, but we are seeing operators who expect to compress the minimum of 20 to 24 weeks of planning into just a few weeks. It can’t be done. The crucial point I want to make is that the engineering has to come first and this should be combined with the power requirements, not just for scrubbers, but also for the fitment of future ballast water treatment systems.
It is not only the cost of the scrubber, but the loss of income that can result from poor planning. In my opinion the approach should be to engage the engineering consultants as early as possible. A scrubber installation project has around 300 sub-projects, which cannot be dumped onto the crew on the ship, who already have tasks. Owners need to create a separate team or use consultants. Simple questions have to be asked: have the internals of the vessel been scanned? With proper planning the pipework and supporting infrastructure can be fabricated by the yard or the supplier in advance.
“The last-minute decision making being undertaken by owners means they are not going to find the right engineering talent to support them”
The last-minute decision making being undertaken by owners at the moment means they are not going to find the right engineering talent to support them. These owners run the risk of having millions of dollars of equipment installed without having the correct engineering talent to ensure it is working properly and to specification.
Tanker Shipping & Trade: What about the choice of scrubber?
Nitesh Ranvah: That is actually one of the most common mistakes. Deciding on the make and model of the scrubber should be a lower priority. Too often the operator is spending months talking to scrubber manufacturers, visiting trade shows and assessing scrubber efficiency, then more time is spent negotiating the best possible price, only to see costs soar and the efficiency of the scrubber compromised when it finally comes to the installation. Furthermore, without the engineering preparation, the fixes required could compromise the deadweight margin, especially on smaller ships.
Tanker Shipping & Trade: Have you seen any post-retrofit problems with scrubbers?
Nitesh Ranvah: The main problems do not come from the retrofit or the engineering, or from class, but from simple lack of use. The system is tested and the crews are trained, but there is a cost involved in operating a scrubber, and many operators are not using them until it is required, then the crew has changed, or they are too busy to train. A scrubber is like any other piece of engineering, it needs to be used or will slowly fail. This is apart from the normal issues, such as loose fittings from vibration. This will have a serious compliance issue further down the road. Once in use, the scrubber will experience vibration and thermal expansion, which can affect items from the sea chest fouling, pipe corrosion, to increased back pressure on the main engine.
Tanker Shipping & Trade: Is there a solution to this problem?
Nitesh Ranvah: There is not an engineering solution as such. With just over a year away from the mandatory use of scrubbers, operators should be running them to check all is working and that there is enough time before IMO 2020 to correct any problems that arise.
Tanker Shipping & Trade: Could this lead to another peak in engineering workload post-IMO 2020?
Nitesh Ranvah: Yes, that definitely could be the case. The scrubbers generally come with 12 months support and guarantee. Those fitted in 2018 could be out of warranty in 2020 and it may be expensive to go back to the manufacturer (if it is still around). In that case, the operator will have to find an engineering firm familiar with the system.
Tanker Shipping & Trade: It is a short term, short-sighted way to look at an investment?
Nitesh Ranvah: Agreed. I don’t have exact figures but the savings of not running a scrubber is about 5% per day, depending on who you talk to. The cost of repair might outweigh the savings. I believe that you have to be running the scrubber constantly to understand the issues that might arise. Switching it on for one or two days is not going to reveal any long-term issues with its operation. The exception is some of European ports [in ECAs] where it is necessary to run the scrubber. This is not yet the case in the Asian regions.
“You have to be running the scrubber constantly to understand the issues that might arise”
Tanker Shipping & Trade: What about parts of Asia, like Singapore and China, talking about banning open-loop scrubbers?
Nitesh Ranvah: I don’t think this is as big an issue as it has been portrayed to be. The vessels that go into the port areas where this is being proposed are mainly the large container ships and these generally have the right sort of scrubber, or are large enough to have tanks for separate compliant fuels. From an engineering point of view, it would be possible to convert an open-loop system to a hybrid or a closed loop. This could be done using a manufacturer’s kit, or a bespoke piece of engineering.
Tanker Shipping & Trade: How many open-loop scrubbers are there?
Nitesh Ranvah: I don’t know exactly, but I would say about 70% of the scrubbers fitted are open-loop.
Tanker Shipping & Trade: Is this due to the price difference?
Nitesh Ranvah: Not just that; there is also the issue of complexity. The hybrid-loop scrubber is quite a sophisticated piece of equipment. They are not as easy to install, they require closer supervision (there is less operating leeway) and they need more maintenance. You also need to have sludge disposal at the ports, which is another issue altogether. The operating costs for a hybrid are also going to be very high.
Tanker Shipping & Trade: What is the general impact on the crew?
Nitesh Ranvah: This is a very important question, because many owners are going to have to fit scrubbers and ballast water treatment systems, which have a big impact on the engineering staff on board. They will be required to update log books, maintenance and operations. They will need training and compensation. This will have a considerable impact on the overall costs. It is not just about purchase and installation; it is the cost of training and the servicing of the equipment.
Tanker Shipping & Trade: When it comes to maintenance, what sort of time periods are we talking about, once a year, or during the Special Survey?
Nitesh Ranvah: At the moment we do not have much information because so few scrubber systems are running, but the recommendations we have seen are that there is some level of maintenance every 25 or 30 hours of the running cycle.
Nitesh Ranvah is chief executive of 21 Knots, a shipping engineering company which installs scrubbers