World’s Top Ports for “Washwater Pollution” Discharges


  • Bahamian capital and Freeport has been ranked in world’s leading for ship wastewater discharge.
  •  Study asserts over 10m tonnes have been released annually.
  •  Cruise port chief says that these issues must be addressed.

Nassau Cruise Port’s top executive yesterday said “more work is definitely needed” after the Bahamian capital and Freeport were ranked in the world’s top five ports for “washwater pollution” discharges, says an article published in The Tribune.

Executive’s Address

Michael Maura, speaking after the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) ranked Nassau and its Grand Bahama counterpart fifth and third in the world for such contaminant releases, told Tribune Business this was an issue both The Bahamas and global maritime industry “need to be looking at”.

The ICCT, in a report released, estimated that more than 10m tonnes of wastewater created by “scrubbers” – a cleaning technology created to reduce air pollution by ships – will be discharged annually at Nassau and Freeport combined once cruise tourism and cargo traffic returns to pre-COVID levels.

ICCT Report

Deriving its estimates from pre-pandemic shipping traffic involving vessels using scrubbers, it said: “We found that Caribbean ports will be particularly affected: Nassau and Freeport in The Bahamas will receive 5.5m tonnes and 4.8m tonnes of polluted washwater in a year.”

Both ports are in the list of top five most impacted by washwater discharges in the world. Most of the in-port washwater pollution will come from cruise ships: They are responsible for 96 percent and more discharges in seven of the ten ports with the highest total washwater discharges in the world.

“In large part, this is because cruise ships stop and idle at ports for 25 percent of their operating time. Additionally, when in port, the study finds that cruise ships are burning more fuel because they consume an average of three times more energy per hour than oil tankers, and six times more than container ships.”

ICCT’s Findings

Elaborating on its findings, the ICCT said the use of scrubbers had been driven by the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) mandate to reduce nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide emissions from ships into the Earth’s atmosphere by last year. However, in seeking to meet the 0.5 percent fuel sulfur rule, it added that the industry had merely “transferred pollution from the air to the sea.

It explained: “Scrubbers remove sulfur from a ship’s exhaust by spraying a buffer solution (usually seawater) over it and then discharging the washwater overboard, often without treatment. The washwater is more acidic than the surrounding seawater and contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), particulate matter, nitrates, nitrites, and heavy metals including nickel, lead, copper and mercury….

Reducing Pollution factors

“Nearly 300m tonnes of scrubber washwater is expected to be discharged in major ports worldwide. But a disproportionate share of those discharges will occur in the Caribbean because of the large number of cruise ships sailing the region. Scrubber washwater is hot and acidic and is discharged in areas with coral reef systems that are already impacted by ocean warming and ocean acidification.”

Mr Maura yesterday acknowledged that, in seeking to materially reduce air pollution by ships, the IMO may have created a new problem for the marine environment. He added, though, that it was vital the industry slash its atmospheric emissions given that these were greater than all the vehicles on the plant combined.

Atmosphere Wellbeing Concerns

Agreeing that the ICCT’s findings, especially on Nassau and Freeport, were concerning, “disappointing” and surprising, he added: “The fact we are having this discussion around the sulfur waste water discharges is a good thing. It’s a good thing because the IMO has made progress in getting vessels to take a step towards eliminating the amount of nitrogen and sulfur they emit into the atmosphere.”

“But obviously an additional review is now necessary because these contaminants are finding themselves, in some cases, being discharged into the marine environment. It could have a material effect on our ecosystem.”

“It is something we need to be looking at, it is something we need to be working with the cargo and the cruise operators on. Our reality is that, given the location of The Bahamas and the fact that so much traffic moves through The Bahamas and the Caribbean on its way to South America and elsewhere, we are on a marine highway.”

Need for Clear Discussions

Mr Maura said not all vessels with scrubbers are culprits because some have “closed loop” systems that rely on fresh water, but the ICCT report said the vast majority are “open loop” that use sea water.

The Nassau Cruise Port chief added that the problem will also be eased by the increasing number of liquefied natural gas (LNG) powered cruise ships set to come out of shipyards in upcoming years, as their reliance on a cleaner fuel source will eliminate the need for scrubbers.

“There’s been real progress but more work is definitely needed,” Mr Maura told this newspaper. “I think it’s reasonable to expect that various port states and designated authorities need to have necessary discussions with maritime operators so that they work together to keep the industry afloat but have them make responsible, environmentally conscious decisions.”

Problems & Solutions

Bahamas-flagged vessels were said to contribute 6 percent of scrubber global wastewater discharges by the ICCT report, but Mr Maura warned that addressing the problem will not be so simple as “just throwing a switch” because doing so would bring global shipping and commerce to a halt.

He added: “This needs to be done the right way so it does not shut down trade….. It’s a journey we’re on, and we need to resolve it sooner rather than later. The work is not yet done.” Romauld Ferreira, minister of the environment and housing, could not be reached for comment yesterday as the ICCT report said The Bahamas is not among those nations with laws to regulate these discharges.

BREEF Executive Director’s Concern

Casuarina McKinney-Lambert, the Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation’s (BREEF) executive director, told Tribune Business of the study: “We are very concerned about the use of scrubbers that reduce air pollution from ships burning high sulphur fuel but instead transfer this pollution to the ocean.

Other Impacts

This contributes to ocean acidification, and is also a pathway for pollutants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), particulate matter, nitrates, nitrites, heavy metals including nickel, lead, copper, and mercury to enter the water and enter the food chain. Polluted water jeopardises the environment and human health.

“This is also a serious potential impact on water quality in otherwise pristine areas such as the waters around Lighthouse Point, Eleuthera. These issues have not been considered in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)” relating to Disney Cruise Line’s proposed project.

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Source : The Tribune


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