FEATURE: Remote Island FONAR Shows Environmental Dilemma for Scrubber Bans

The Oyster Bay was stranded at a remote island in the Pacific over New Year with no local bunker supplies. Image Credit: File Image / Pixabay

Would you rather risk human respiratory health by burning high sulfur fuel oil at berth, or risk marine life by using a scrubber and discharging the washwater into the sea?

That was the dilemma raised by implication from a fuel oil non-availability report (FONAR) submitted to the International Maritime Organization in January from a remote island in the Pacific.

The scrubber-fitted bulk carrier Oyster Bay filed a FONAR to its flag state on 21 January because it was unable to source 0.50% sulfur fuels at Wake Island, a remote Pacific island about 1,500 miles east of Guam.

The scrubber-fitted bulk carrier Oyster Bay filed a FONAR to its flag state on 21 January because it was unable to source 0.50% sulfur fuels at Wake Island, a remote Pacific island about 1,500 miles east of Guam.

The ship had left Vancouver two months earlier with enough high sulfur fuel oil (HSFO) for a return trip, as well as 160 mt of 0.1% sulfur gasoil to use within the three nautical-mile radius around the island where it would not be allowed to use its open-loop scrubber.

The Oyster Bay arrived at Wake Island in early December, expecting only to stay for 12 days while cargo was dicharged, but operational delays and unfavourable weather kept the ship there for another two months, and the ship’s gasoil supply would have run out long before then.

Wake Island has no local oil refinery, and it would seem unreasonable to expect a bunker supplier to be found to send a barge on a 4,000 mile round trip for a single stem there.

This meant that the Oyster Bay was forced to continue burning HSFO there, with its scrubber shut off to comply with local regulations.

Wider Implications

In the case of Wake Island, its small population of 100 mostly US military personnel can presumably look after themselves, and won’t have been troubled too much by the air pollution for a few weeks; the decision seems to be the correct one here.

The case raises the point of whether bans on open-loop scrubber discharge could provide perverse incentives in other cases.

But the case raises the point of whether bans on open-loop scrubber discharge could provide perverse incentives in other cases.

If a hurricane kept a few scrubber-equipped ships stranded somewhere heavily populated but with no local compliant fuel production like Tenerife for a few weeks, would it really be sensible to have them burning HSFO with no scrubber and risking local human respiratory health, rather than using the scrubbers normally and potentially risking local marine life?

Port authorities with open-loop scrubber bans or those considering implementing them will need to consider problems like this in greater detail.

As IBIA has been arguing recently, regulators may need to take more care over these rules.

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