Come March 1st, the Port of Vancouver will be a little less welcoming to scrubber-equipped ships. New restrictions issued by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, will ban the discharge of washwater from exhaust gas cleaning systems within port limits. The ban applies to both open-loop and closed-loop scrubbers. It will come as good news to many. Last year’s report by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) demonstrated that the implications of such a ban could be massive. Researchers estimated that restrictions on scrubber discharges within just 1 nautical mile of the Port of Vancouver, could save 5.2 million tonnes (Mt) of washwater from entering the port each year.
It would be a great start, but as it stands, the ban may not reach its full potential. Unfortunately, the ban permits scrubber discharges that come from main engines. This seemingly tiny omission could cripple the ban’s impact. While most ships do not use main engines in port and instead rely on auxiliary engines for power, there is one notable exception. Cruise ships have an atypical engine configuration. Most often, these ships are powered by several smaller engines, making the distinction between main and auxiliary engines less clear. This could allow cruise ships to discharge scrubber washwater in port under the notion it is washwater from the main engine. That would be a big a problem. While no-sail orders effectively shut down the cruise industry during much of the pandemic, many cruise lines are now resuming operations. In fact, Canada has been welcoming cruises since November 2021.
What’s worse is that updates to the ICCT’s original report indicate this loophole could have even larger ramifications than initially anticipated. In their initial study, ICCT researchers only considered scrubber discharges within 1 nautical mile of the Port of Vancouver, but the ban covers the entire navigational jurisdiction of the port. This drastically increases scrubber discharge estimates. Using ship activity data from 2019 to better reflect pre-pandemic levels, ICCT researchers recalculated the amount of scrubber washwater scrubber-equipped ships discharge. With no ban in place, researchers estimated that 10.8 million tons of scrubber washwater would be discharged within the navigation jurisdiction of the port each year. Further, the ICCT’s report speculates that cruise ships would be responsible for 53% of these scrubber washwater discharges. That is especially telling considering cruise ships represented only 11% of the scrubber-equipped ships in the data set ICCT researchers studied. While more bulk carriers and container ships were scrubber-equipped, these ships use less fuel at anchor and at berth. Cruise ships, on the other hand, have relatively large fuel requirements in port to power their amenities. This results in more scrubber use and more scrubber discharges.
As it stands, the Port of Vancouver’s ban will not eliminate these cruise ship discharges. We can only expect that their operators will take advantage of the loophole. After all, cruise lines have quite a history of deceptive and deceitful behavior. A legal loophole, like this one, would be relatively tame in comparison to many of the reprehensible acts cruise companies have committed. The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority will need to take the wording on this ban back to the drawing board. While the ban is certainly a step in the right direction, the cruise ship loophole needs to be closed for it to reach its full potential.