Denmark bans scrubber discharge from ships to prevent pollution of marine environment

The Danish government has prohibited the discharge of scrubber water from ships into the marine environment within 22 kilometers of the Danish coasts.

Danish Ministry of Environment

Scrubbers became widespread after stricter sulfur regulations were introduced in the North Sea and Baltic Sea in 2015 and especially after global sulfur regulations introduced by the International Maritime Organizaton (IMO) came into effect in 2020.

At that time, shipping companies could choose to comply with the new rules by either cleaning the smoke for sulfur with a scrubber or switching to fuel with a lower sulfur content. In recent years, the number of ships using this technology has grown.

To tackle this problem, the Danish government, together with SF, LA, DD, K, EL, RV and ALT, entered into a political agreement. Under the agreement, ships are required to switch to low-sulfur fuel or closed scrubbers with zero emissions. The residual product from these scrubbers must be delivered to port reception facilities.

“This agreement is another important step on the way to a better marine environment. Scrubber water emits a number of problematic substances that accumulate on our seabed and are absorbed into the ocean’s food chains and end up in the fish we eat. The discharge of environmentally hazardous substances comes from many different sources, but scrubber water is a source about which we have a lot of knowledge and data, and therefore I am happy that we are now putting an end to the pollution with scrubber water in Danish territorial waters,” said Magnus Heunicke, Danish Minister of Environment.

“We take responsibility in the work to improve the marine environment, which is under pressure in many places in and around Denmark. It requires an effort. In the future, the scrubber water from smoke cleaning on the ships must not be discharged within the 12 nautical mile limit. At the same time, we will also, through international cooperation, press for more countries to do the same, so that a greater international effort can be made to improve the marine environment,” Erling Bonnesen, spokesperson for the Liberal Party stated.

“From 2029, there must be a complete end to the discharge of scrubber water from ships into the Danish marine environment. Today, technology exists that makes it possible to collect scrubber water in storage tanks instead of discharging it into the sea. With this agreement, we will get more ships using that technology or cleaner fuels for the benefit of the marine environment,” Alexander Ryle, spokesperson for the Liberal Alliance noted.

The ban will come into effect on July 1, 2025, for ships with scrubbers in open operation, where the wash water is discharged into the sea. For ships with scrubbers in closed operation, the ban on water discharge will take effect on July 1, 2029. It will be enforced through an amendment to the law, which will be introduced in the upcoming parliamentary year. 

The prohibition is expected to decrease the discharge of harmful substances into the marine environment, with reductions of up to 20 percent for nickel and 7 percent for anthracene.

Since the sea area that can be regulated nationally according to the Convention on the Law of the Sea is 22 km (12nm), and the rest is regulated by international rules, the Danish government also agreed that Denmark must work for a similar ban in the Baltic Sea and North Sea through the regional maritime conventions HELCOM and OSPAR.

Denmark’s shipping organization Danish Shipping has recognized the ban and calls for rigorous enforcement.

“I am pleased that the politicians have chosen to listen to our request to introduce a sensible phase-in period, so that the shipping companies that have invested a lot of money in complying with the rules and reducing their sulfur emissions with a scrubber, have time to adapt to a new reality,” said Nina Porst, Director of Climate, Environment, and Safety at Danish Shipping.

“We will, of course, comply with the new rules, and therefore it is also important for us that the ban comes with a plan that will ensure robust enforcement. If this is not the case, it could end up putting some Danish shipping companies at a disadvantage compared to their foreign competitors,” she added.

To remind, Denmark joined as a co-sponsor the proposal to create a $5 billion International Maritime Research and Development Board (IMRB). The fund is aimed at supporting collaborative programs for the applied research and development of zero-carbon technologies, specifically tailored for maritime applications, including the development of working prototypes. 

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Clean Arctic Alliance welcomes Denmark’s ban on scrubber discharge

The Clean Arctic Alliance has welcomed the Danish government’s announcement that it will prohibit the discharge of scrubber water from ships. The organization has further called for all Arctic states to not only follow Denmark’s action but to go beyond it by banning the use of scrubbers throughout Arctic waters.

“Denmark’s banning of the discharge of scrubber water from ships is welcome and exciting news and opens the door for Arctic countries to end the use of scrubbers in their waters,” said Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance. 

He noted that scrubbers discharge large amounts of acidic wastewater into the ocean and recent studies have shown that even very low concentrations of scrubber wastewater are toxic to marine life.

That is why Arctic governments must not only follow Denmark’s lead but go further. There is an urgent need to ensure that the strongest environmental protection – a ban on the use of scrubbers – is put in place to protect the ocean globally, Prior highlighted.

“The call for a scrubber discharge ban brought together Danish green NGOs to ask for a scrubber water discharge ban in Danish seas preventing ships from discharging high amounts of toxic persistent heavy metals and carcinogenic PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) directly into nature. As a result, both our Environment Minister Magnus Heunicke and the Danish Parliament paid attention and have now banned the discharge of scrubber water to the benefit of marine ecosystems,” said Kåre Press-Kristensen, Senior Advisor, Head of Secretariat at Green Global Futures.

“As a growing number of coastal states take action against pollution by scrubbers, based on the scientific evidence, other countries must follow. The Clean Arctic Alliance calls on Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and the State of Alaska to take action and ban the use of scrubbers in the Arctic,” said Eelco Leemans, Technical Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance.