Vancouver Port bans scrubber wash water discharge

On 1 March 2022, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s new restrictions on the discharge of scrubber wash water at the Port of Vancouver went into effect.

Illustration. Image Courtesy: Wärtsilä

Under the new guidelines formally outlined in the port information guide, ships at berth or at anchor within the Port of Vancouver are prohibited from discharging scrubber wash water.

To meet these new requirements, ships must either hold their scrubber wash water on board, switch to low-sulphur fuel, or connect to shore power, which is available at the Canada Place, Deltaport, and Centerm terminals.

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Scrubber wash water is the byproduct of ship exhaust gas cleaning systems, which are commonly known as “scrubbers.” Scrubbers are used to remove sulphur and other contaminants from ships’ fuel exhaust to comply with the International Maritime Organization’s 2020 regulation limiting sulphur content in marine fuel.

When scrubber wash water is released into the marine environment, it can have toxic impacts on marine life due to the presence of pollutants such as metals, hydrocarbons, and sulphurous and nitrous acids, which can accumulate in the food web and negatively impact the health of marine ecosystems.

In 2019, the port authority commissioned a third-party study to assess the impacts of scrubber wash water on local ecosystems within the Port of Vancouver. This study found that the discharge of scrubber wash water could result in levels of certain contaminants that exceed thresholds set for the protection of aquatic life. As a result, in 2021, the port authority advised industry, Indigenous groups and other stakeholders of its intention to implement restrictions on the discharge of scrubber wash water.

In addition to restricting the discharge of scrubber wash water while ships are at berth or at anchor, the port authority plans to implement two additional phases of restrictions on scrubbers at the Port of Vancouver.

The second phase of restrictions will prohibit the discharge of scrubber wash water in all waters within the port authority’s jurisdiction, while the third phase will fully prohibit the use of scrubber systems within the Port of Vancouver.

Last year, the Port of Vancouver, together with other Northwest ports including British Columbia, Tacoma and Seattle, has committed to phasing out emissions from seaport-related activities by 2050.

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In a collaboration among the four ports, the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy seeks to meet this target through changes in equipment, fuels, and infrastructure.