Ships in Canada’s oceans are cheating global fuel standards, according to findings in federal report

Tuesday November 24, 2020

New investigation commissioned by the federal government reveals that ships using scrubbers are bad news for both the air we breathe and the ocean we swim in

Unceded Coast Salish Territories (VANCOUVER, BC) — Ships, particularly cruise ships, entering Canadian waters are cheating the global fuel standard—and it’s bad news for coastal communities, whales, and the ocean.

This is according to a report released today  by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) and commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada. To use the cheapest dirtiest fuel, ships need to cheat with a system to get around global low-sulphur fuel standard. This cheat, called a scrubber, is perfectly legal, and incredibly harmful. The systems turn sulphur air pollution into water pollution that is acidic, and full of heavy metals, carcinogens and fertility-disrupting toxins. According to the report, scrubbers lower sulfur dioxide emissions but other emissions were higher, specifically those of carbon dioxide, particulate matter, and black carbon when using cheap fuel with a scrubber compared with ships that switched fuels. 

“The findings from this federally-funded study are alarming,” said Tzeporah Berman, International Programs Director, “Scrubbers don’t protect communities. Scrubbers don’t stop air pollution and they make ocean pollution worse. Salmon, scallops, and southern resident killer whales don’t need more heavy metals and toxins to swim through.”

The study also finds that ocean pollution coming from these systems in the forms of washwater, bleed-off, and sludge, were often in compliance with the weak regulations that exist, which are not science-based standards, all the while containing unsafe levels of heavy metals and other toxins. Heavy metals and many Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) do not biodegrade and instead collect in the food web. This makes these pollutants serious problems.  

“One thing this federally-funded report makes abundantly clear is that the regulations have very little to do with science or ecosystem protection,” said Anna Barford, Canadian Shipping Campaigner, “Cruise ships release the majority of this highly contaminated scrubber washwater in sensitive ecosystemsWe must bring in rules to protect our oceans from scrubbers, as other countries have already done. Now is the time to ban scrubbers, before these polluting floating resorts come back into southern resident killer whale and beluga habitat.”

As recent media coverage has indicated, there is increasing optimism that a COVID-19 vaccine may be on the horizon, and the cruise tourism industry is already talking about a resurgence. Now is an opportune moment for the federal government to get ahead and bring in rules that protect people and vulnerable coastlines by preventing cruise ships from continuing to be the major culprit dumping washwater.

Last July, an investigative report released by found that Canada’s West Coast was saved from exposure to over 30 billions of litres of pollution when the federal government implemented restrictions during the last cruise season due to COVID-19. Switching fuels to the cleanest fuel currently available, marine gasoil, is a step in the right direction on the pathway to renewable, non-fossil marine propulsion. California, Norway, and many other jurisdictions, have already regulated and banned scrubbers.  Canada must follow their lead if it is serious about ocean protection.


Media contacts: 

Ziona Eyob, Canadian Communications Manager,, +1 604 757 7279 (PST)