Singapore to ban 'wash water' discharge at top ship refueling port from 2020

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore’s Maritime Port Authority (MPA) will ban the discharge of “wash water” used in ships to scrub engine exhaust from Jan. 1, 2020, the MPA said on Friday.

The ban of so-called open-loop scrubbers is part of an effort to prepare one of the world’s busiest ports for International Maritime Organization (IMO) rules that come into force in 2020 and oblige ships to use cleaner fuels.

“To protect the marine environment and ensure that the port waters are clean, the discharge of wash water from open-loop exhaust gas scrubbers in Singapore port waters will be prohibited,” said Andrew Tan, Chief Executive Officer of the MPA during an event in Singapore.

“Ships fitted with hybrid scrubbers will be required to switch to the closed-loop mode of operation,” Tan said.

Singapore is the world’s biggest hub for ship refueling, also known as bunkering.

Tan said Singapore would provide facilities for the collection of residue generated from the operation of scrubbers.

The MPA said the ban would be enforced from Jan. 1, 2020.


Under future IMO rules, ships will have to reduce the sulfur content in their fuel to below 0.5 percent from 2020, compared with 3.5 percent now.

To do so, shippers can switch to burning cleaner oil, shift to alternative fuels like liquefied natural gas (LNG), or invest in exhaust gas cleaning systems, or scrubbers.

The MPA’s move could be a setback for shippers bunkering in Singapore that have invested in scrubbers.

Open-loop scrubbers use seawater to capture sulfur from engine exhausts before discharging this “wash water” back into the ocean after treatment. In closed-loop systems, scrubbing is performed using water treated with additives, recycling the liquid internally. Hybrid scrubbers are a combination of both.

The cheapest of the scrubbing options, open-loop systems, have been the most popular with shippers, shipping sources say.

Some anticipate Singapore’s move could cost the city-state business in the bunkering industry.

“Singapore’s bunker market could lose out to competitive bunkering locations emerging in surrounding locations ... provided they allow open-loop scrubbers to operate,” said Ashok Sharma, managing director of shipbroker BRS Baxi in Singapore.

Others are less concerned since most shippers are opting for low sulfur fuels as a means for compliance, and the benefits of scrubbers are largely realized in open water and not within port limits.

“Prudent tanker owners will have likely factored in the possibility of limits on the use of open-loop scrubbers,” said Tim Wilkins, Asia-Pacific manager for Intertanko, an association of independent tanker owners and operators.

While recent interest in scrubbers has increased, the cost of installing them and uncertainty around emissions regulations has meant that a switch to low-sulfur fuels remains the most practical form of compliance with IMO 2020 rules, according to industry participants.

Reporting by Roslan Khasawneh; Editing by Henning Gloystein and Tom Hogue