Merchant Shipping Continues to Poison the Ocean with Waste Oil

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

WORLDWIDE – The latest ‘magic pipe’ incident, in which crew members conspired to dump waste oil from a vessel whilst concealing the fact from environmental investigators has once again placed the subject of pollution of this type from ocean going vessels back in the public eye. The prosecution of Carnival Corporation’s Princess Cruise Lines, which cost the company some $40 million, is just the tip of a very dirty iceberg. It has been our unfortunate duty to report on many such cases over the years, and these are of course just those which are discovered and subsequently prosecuted by the authorities, Princess had allegedly been dumping oil for 8 years previously before being caught.

The reality is of course that there should be no need whatsoever for this type of despicable action. These ‘slops’ are in fact reusable assets if treated correctly, as was evidenced by our recent piece on Michel Pingeot winning L’Usine Nouvelle magazine’s ‘Ingénieurs du Futur 2016’. Pingeot’s company, Ecoslops, has built a business on refining the waste oil from merchant vessels and here we publish comments from the company’s CEO, Vincent Favier, which highlights the scope of waste involved and how Ecoslops treats the sludge to return it to a useable state.

”In 2016 the European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) placed ship and port waste as a ‘top ten’ environmental priority for the continent. Looking forward to 2017, this problem is set to continue to be a high profile issue in the industry. With estimates of illegal slops disposal reaching at least 3,000 incidents each year in European waters alone, according to The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the global scale and environmental impact will likely be considerable.

”Reports of illegal waste dumping are still prevalent in the industry press, and while perpetrators are being fined and charged, the number of cases seems to be becoming more pronounced. Large scale, heavily polluting cases of oil spills are well documented, but it is the smaller spills, often going under the radar, which are causing unknown damage.

”[The] recent prosecution involving a prestigious cruise line has again pushed illegal slops disposal into the forefront of industry minds. The company has pleaded guilty to seven felony charges and is to pay a $40 million penalty for polluting the ocean; it is a significant price to pay, particularly at a time of heightened economic and commercial pressure within the shipping industry. On top of this, a further two recent slops dumping cases have been reported, which resulted in crew facing felony charges and have left the companies with significant fines, reaching up to $1,000,000. If there was ever a doubt about shipping’s appetite for enforcing compliance, when it comes to slops dumping, it would appear misguided.

”Slops and sludges are a hydrocarbon-rich industrial waste, produced in various parts of a ship’s operations, including tank cleaning, purifying fuels and using ballast water. They are an unavoidable waste project of all voyages. The volume of slops and sludges a vessel produces depends on its operations, the size of the vessel, its maintenance and age, as well as various other factors. This waste material is considerable: the global fleet uses an estimated 400 million tonnes of fuel oil to function every year. This results in tens of millions of tonnes of slops being generated each year, all of which needs to be disposed of in line with strict regulations, to ensure minimal impact on the environment.

”Disposing of slops sustainably has not been without its challenges. The recent low cost of crude oil has encouraged markets such as the construction sector, a traditionally reliable market for slops collectors to sell to, to invest in purer, virgin fuels. Without this channel, disposing of slops has become more difficult and more expensive. Crucially, there is also now a significant build-up of slops in ports with many port authorities not having the adequate reception or collection facilities to manage them, and tanks are becoming physically full. The situation is interrupting shipping operations in ports, causing downtime, as well as creating environmental and sustainability issues within local port areas and communities.

”To provide a viable solution to this mounting issue, Ecoslops has developed a unique technology to sustainably regenerate slops into valuable new fuels and light bitumen, which can be sold back into the market, creating a sustainable cycle. Based on a micro-refining process, the technology works in the following way:

”Firstly, to optimise distillation, the slops are pre-treated. They are heated, decanted and using high-speed vertical centrifugation, the water, hydrocarbons and sediments are separated before the refining and distillation process. As the reprocessing of the water from the slops is fully integrated within the treatment process, the water is then depolluted using the latest techniques. The water is returned to its natural environment in line with relevant environmental laws. After the water and sediment is removed, the slops are sent to the P2R vacuum distillation column, where they are heated. Under vacuum conditions, the hydrocarbons and heavy molecules are vaporised, and at the end of the distillation process several fuels are produced, including naphtha, fuel (GO and IFO) and light bitumen.

”This technology provides a solution at every level of the slops disposal chain. It helps ports to improve their sustainability profile, reduce the environmental impact within their local community, as well as enhance their competitiveness and reputation. As the waste from the vessels is being appropriately treated, and at a good price, ship owners can also improve their reputation by creating a sustainability cycle for their slops with the regenerated product being sold back into the market. Traditional slops collectors also benefit, as Ecoslops purchases the product at a fair price, and alleviates the pressures on storage capacity.

”Over 17,000 tonnes of slops have been successfully regenerated into fuel oil and sold back into the fuel supply chain since Ecoslops’ first micro-refinery in the Port of Sinès commenced industrial production in 2015. Ecoslops has also announced that it is on track to meet its annual target of producing at least 30,000 tons of regenerated slops in 2017 from the Port of Sinès.

”In September 2016, Ecoslops signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Total, the international oil and gas company, to establish a slops processing plant within the refinery in La Mede, Marseille, further validating the viability of the technology and Ecoslops’ business model. The aim of this unit will be to process slops unloaded in the Port of Marseille and neighbouring ports. In conjunction with this, Ecoslops has continued to develop other projects, particularly in Northern Europe, and is reiterating its objective of signing deals for three new sites by the end of 2017.

”High profile cases of illegal slops disposal are making the industry more aware of the escalating problem. However, it is not enough to simply acknowledge there is a problem: solutions need to be put in place. Disposing of slops illegally means risking prosecution and fines, as well as damaging the ocean environment. But there are solutions. As with many sustainability initiatives within the industry, technology and innovation hold the key. Ecoslops’ solution is proven and already delivering multiple benefits to all stakeholders within the slops chain.”

The other sad fact about these instances is that in almost all cases the evidence to prosecute has been obtained through whistle blowers. Given that these people are normally involved to some extent, and therefore generally reluctant to come forward, it can only be imagined how widespread the practice of avoiding the use of an oily water separator and dumping waste directly into the ocean has become. To read some of the cases which have disgraced the shipping industry in the past few years simply type magic pipe into the News Search box at the head of the page.

Photo: The before and after photo’s, clearly taken by an insider aboard the Caribbean Princess, showing the flange for the ‘magic pipe’ in place and available to extract waste without it passing through the separator.