Posidonia 2018: Cracks appear in shipping industry’s opposition to scrubbers

Scrubbers are only a temporary measure
Scrubbers are only a temporary measure

Shipping is an industry not always known for its harmony. Yet there has been something approaching consensus on one subject – how to comply with the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) 2020 sulphur cap. And the answer has been, not with scrubbers.

So uncontroversial is this view that Angeliki Frangou called it “the least divisive subject” at a panel of shipowners from the dry bulk and tanker segments who assembled at the TradeWinds Shipowners Forum on 6 June.

Most owners agreed that scrubbers were not for them – at least not yet. Nikolas Tsakos of Tsakos Energy Navigation and chairman of Intertanko called them a “short-term fix”, with Sovcomflot’s Evgeniy Ambrosov agreeing because they do nothing to reduce CO2 and dump the captured sulphur into the sea instead of the air.

“In my view, it is a temporary measure,” he said. Alexander Saverys of CMB and Delphis went even further, saying he disagreed even with the idea of scrubbers because of the issues surrounding wastewater.

When it was pointed out that sulphur is a natural ingredient of seawater, it did not change his mind. “You’re probably right,” he said, “but it is not a positive image for our industry.” It was a position applauded by the audience. Perhaps this is why only 800 vessels have been fitted with the devices so far.

Yet there are signs that attitudes towards the technology are evolving. Rival shipowners are often careful not to rule out scrubbers, and some have even taken steps to accommodate them. Tsakos’s newly ordered Aframax pair, for example, were ordered scrubber-ready.

Other voices are joining the chorus, which should give the beleaguered manufacturers of the devices some cause for optimism. Capital Maritime’s Evangelos Marinakis noted that on the biggest, thirstiest ships, scrubbers are becoming a reality.

While Frangou did sound negative on the technology, she explained that this is because she does not want to trade the spread between heavy fuel oil (HFO) and marine gasoil (MGO), which is how proponents of the technology expect to recoup their money. Posidonia has seen a host of other shipowners and research professionals come out as scrubber enthusiasts, given a spread between HFO and cleaner MGO that could exceed USD400/tonne.

Perhaps this is why SwissMarine’s Peter Weernink noted that “every charterer is looking to take vessels on long term with scrubbers”. This is not something that will have gone unnoticed by owners.