South Africa may change scrubber decision

Flue-gas scrubber tower. Credit: PPG

South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) will make the call in September 2019 on whether the country will allow the use of open- and closed-loop scrubbers (exhaust gas cleaning systems) in its waters come 1 January 2020.

Although the authority issued a Marine Notice in March saying that it would allow scrubbers, the issue came up for discussion at a recent workshop with industry and government stakeholders on the implications of International Maritime Organization (IMO) MARPOL Annex VI low-sulphur fuel regulation for the country.

The consensus was that allowing scrubbers advocates the continued use of heavy fuel oil (HFO), which is contrary to the IMO objectives.

In addition, the point was raised that there is no conclusive scientific study on the long-term impact of dumping sulphur at sea, therefore, SAMSA should rather be cautious in its approach and eliminate any potential risk to the environment by simply banning scrubbers in South African waters.

Sobantu Tilayi, SAMSA’s acting chief executive officer, said that it was not a straightforward decision and that the maritime authority would need to collaborate with the Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries (DEFF) to ensure that the final decision regarding scrubbers met the government’s climate change commitments, as well as SAMSA’s mandate of overseeing a sustainable maritime industry.

However, given that SAMSA had already issued a Marine Notice that scrubbers would be permitted until further notice, many delegates felt that an immediate ban might have a negative knock-on effect on the local bunker market.

South Africa will be ready to implement Annex VI, but the Department of Transport, along with SAMSA, needs to fast track legislation to legitimise implementation. According to Sipho Mbata, South Africa’s alternate permanent representative to the IMO, the most viable approach would be to make an amendment to existing law, rather going through the bill process that would take anything up to two years prior to enactment.

Other matters discussed at the workshop included the availability of fuel that meets the new requirements, the proper handling of ships coming into South African ports without the compliant fuel, the availability of facilities to test fuels used by ships and handling vessels using non-compliant fuel, but fitted with sulphur reducing equipment.