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SOURCE: The Province

DATE: December 14, 2019

SNIP: Cruise ships that use scrubbers to comply with international sulphur-limit laws may be unintentionally harming endangered whales off the coast of B.C., says a new WWF-commissioned study.

The report “A whale of a problem? Heavy fuel oil, exhaust gas cleaning systems, and British Columbia’s resident killer whales” was released this week by the International Council on Clean Transportation. The study was funded by World Wildlife Fund Canada.

For the study, researchers analyzed 30 commercial ships operating off the coast of B.C. that are equipped with exhaust gas cleaning systems, also called scrubbers, that remove harmful sulphur oxides from exhaust gases of heavy fuel oil used in marine engines.

Open-looped scrubbers, the most commonly used system, pump a mix of water and contaminants into the ocean called wash water. The wash water contains “carcinogenic substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals,” according to the report.

There are no federal laws about ships operating in “open” mode, but the report is calling for legislation to eliminate open-looped scrubbers.

A Tranport Canada spokeswoman, Annie Joannette, said the department is reviewing the WWF report.

The WWF report found that the 30 ships studied in 2017 emitted nearly 35 million tonnes of scrubber wastewater off the B.C. coast, including in areas where there are endangered species of killer whales. Cruise ships were responsible for 90 per cent of these discharges, according to the study.

Of the 30 ships with scrubbers installed, 16 had open-loop scrubbers and 14 had a hybrid of open and closed-loop scrubbers.

The report said it is possible that some ship operators sometimes voluntarily operate in closed-loop mode, which collects the slurry to be deposited at a waste-disposal site on land.

The researchers say that the reason ship operators may not use the closed-loop mode is because it is more expensive.

While more than 50 per cent of ships in the study use open-looped scrubbers, the researchers predict this could grow by 35 per cent in 2020, and that cruise ships could account for two-thirds of this increase.

Southern resident killer whales are critically endangered, with only 76 individuals remaining, and northern resident killer whales are threatened with 309 animals remaining.

They are under an enormous amounts of stress from dwindling food sources caused by climate change, and Hussein Alidina, lead specialist of oceans with WWF-Canada, says the discharge from ships may be adding to their stress.

“Pollution and contamination from all sources, including shipping, need to be reduced for long-term recovery of this population to be possible,” he said.

Researchers say polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are stored in killer whale’s fat reserves, and can cause cancer and other health problems.

More than one million passengers on 288 cruise ships visited Vancouver in 2019, according to the Port of Vancouver. This represents a 22 per cent increase in passengers compared to the 2018 season.