2021: A Second Wave of Scrubbers

Chelsea's Sea Sentry provides a fully autonomous wash water monitoring system which monitors both the water inlet and outlet of wet exhaust gas scrubber systems. The system analyses wash water to ensure that it is compliant with environmental regulations which reduce potentially high levels of contamination in exhaust gas scrubber wash water discharge.

It’s easy to mistake January 2021 for January 2020 with all the talk of widening HSFO / VLSFO spreads. And as numerous scrubber manufacturers have hinted in recent weeks, it’s looking increasingly likely that there’s going to be a second wave of shipowners installing scrubbers.

The price differential has been slowly climbing for a couple of months now, and recent analysis by Greg Miller suggests that Capesizes with scrubbers are already looking at more than $2,500 per day of savings.

Indeed, as TradeWinds reported on 28 January, a scrubber fitted VLCC was recently fixed at a time charter equivalent rate that’s almost three times more than equivalent non-scrubber tonnage.

Shipowners are also recognising the upside. Back in December 2020, ONE and MSC confirmed orders for a total of ten 24,000 TEU new builds all with scrubbers. Similarly, Genco CEO John Wobensmith noted in mid-January that even with the price volatility of 2020 his firm has made back nearly 50% of its November 2019 scrubber investment on 17 Capesizes.

The Rise of Regulation

There continues to be substantial debate about scrubbers, and their long-term environmental effects. Numerous jurisdictions – including Singapore, Gibraltar, and the Panama Canal – have already banned the discharge of wastewater in their ports and inland waterways. In addition to local laws, there’s also an increasing likelihood of stricter regulation from the IMO that covers scrubber discharges.

One major part of the ongoing discussion has been on wash water monitoring. For these reasons, there’s an urgent need for shipowners and operators whose vessels are fitted with scrubbers to ensure that their compliance is future-proofed. Primarily this will require reliable evidence that their exhaust gas cleaning systems work as advertised.

Having the ability to quickly and accurately measure and monitor wash water effluent will reduce the risks of non-compliance to owners and manufacturers. Although there have been a limited number of enforcement proceedings so far, it’s clear that most jurisdictions intend to prosecute non-compliance to the full extent of the law. At the top end of that scale – as we’ve seen with Emission Control Area violations – the fines can quickly run into millions of dollars and leave the ships’ officers with criminal convictions.

Long Term Protection

Certified by DNV-GL and ClassNK and installed on more than 250 vessels, Chelsea’s Sea Sentry system is a trusted technology for the industry. Scrubber owners are currently required to use a monitoring system to ensure regulatory compliance. It provides users with a full-range PAH measurement using a proven and highly accurate sensing technique.

The Sea Sentry system was recently upgraded, including new sensor manufacture coupled with an innovative new solid standard Optical Check Kit increasing the calibration interval from 12 to 24 months. This means that a system can remain in situ and provide lab-accurate results without optical sensor re-calibration for up to two years. This along with the Sea Sentry cabinet being supplied without sensors for the initial supply and installation and the sensors being supplied nearer the commissioning date, is providing shipowners with confidence and reducing the ongoing administrative challenges associated with scrubbers.

Other new features improve the operability of the system for crews, and therefore make maintenance easier and decrease the risk of error. These include a more robust external cabinet design, to provide protection beyond the existing IP65 rating in harsh engine room environments and improved clearer labelling on the outside of the cabinet to make installation and maintenance tasks easier to carry out. Shipowners with a previous Sea Sentry systems are able to easily upgrade their sensors, connectors, solid standards, and labelling to this higher standard.

There are strong signs of a scrubber renaissance in 2021, and that’ll bring major financial upsides for those who’ve installed them. However, to ensure that they’re getting their full return on investment will require accurate wash water monitoring and measurement, and that they’re able to take action before significant issues arise and they’re financially penalised for inadvertent non-compliance.