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Shipping companies around the world have spent over $12bn on ‘cheat devices’ known as open-loop scrubbers for their vessels. These devices side-step new environmental legislation by dumping pollution into the sea instead of the air.

Almost 3,800 ships have already had scrubbers installed, which could have a devastating effect on sea life globally. The ships that have been quickest to take on the new devices are the larger vessels, such as bulk carriers, container ships and oil tankers, which have also been the worst polluters. 

Lucy Gilliam, a campaigner for Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based NGO, says: “Scrubbers are effectively cheat devices in that they satisfy environmental legislation, while allowing ships to continue to pollute. They are legal according to IMO rules, which allows shipping companies to wash their hands of their environmental responsibilities.

Although IMO member states have approved the use of open-loop scrubbers to meet the incoming sulphur cap, some regional ports, such as the UAE’s Port of Fujairah, have set up rules to prevent their use.

In May, EU member states called for the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee to develop a set of “harmonised rules” on the areas and conditions under which scrubbers can discharge.

The Committee appointed a team to assess the evidence relating to the environmental impact of discharges from scrubbers, and will present its findings in February 2020.