The cost of monitoring is not to be sniffed at

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

20 July 2017

Earlier this month, it was announced that The Danish EPA had contracted Danish startup (link: text: Explicit) to monitor sulphur compliance from ships. This will be done by means of a helicopter fitted with sniffer technology developed by Explicit with the long terms aim of making use of drones rather than manned helicopters.

The monitoring will be conducted by sampling exhaust plumes from vessels in waters around Denmark. The objective is to detect and deter violations of the 0.10% ECA restriction on sulphur in the bunker fuel.

Although the monitoring is planned to start later this month, it is a project that has been in development for some time. Back in 2014 it was reported that the Danish government had agreed an annual budget of $1.27 million dedicated to monitoring emissions, with not an insignificant part of that being dedicated to the drone project. In 2015, the sum for that purpose was reported to have been $100.000 bringing the total funding committed to $280.000. Undoubtedly, there was further funding since.

It is laudable of the Danish Government to commit to ensuring compliance with IMO measures it has signed up to but it needs to be considered how long and at what cost such monitoring should go on for. Clearly, a single helicopter cannot be patrolling all of Danish waters on a 24/7 basis so there is a large element of chance involved in determining if there is a problem at all with non-compliance and if there is how big it might be.

A helicopter is not cheap to run and some quick Google research shows that to keep a typical police size helicopter operating for 12 hours a day costs around $1.1m a year. That would absorb most of the Danish budgeted allowance without accounting for any cost of the equipment and a profit element for the contractor. Offset against that could be the cost of any fines levied against offenders but there is no guarantee that there will be any or if they could be enforced if the ship does not call to a Danish port.

As has been seen from the number of magic pipe incidents and huge fines made in the US, quite obviously some operators consider the benefits of flouting the rules well worth it and a chance worth taking. The same might well apply in the case of the SOx emissions. For sure some vessels might claim mitigating circumstances – the bunker delivery note showed the wrong sulphur content, a scrubber had broken down or was faulty or even that no low sulphur fuel was obtainable – something that many consider highly likely after 2020.

It will be interesting to see what the results of the Danish initiative are, but if huge fines and some 35 years of PSC actions have not stopped infringements then it is not likely that sniffer drones will have much of a deterrent effect either. That is not to say that such initiatives should not happen but merely a reflection on reality.