French Prosecutors Seek Steep Penalties for Scrubber Violation

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The bulker SM Roberts Bank has landed in serious trouble with French authorities for continuing to use its scrubber within three nautical miles of the port of Fos-sur-Mer. 

On September 21, port state control inspectors with France’s ship safety center (CSN) boarded the Panamax bulker at Fos-sur-Mer. A review of the ship’s records revealed that the vessel had been using its open-loop scrubber inside of the three-mile line. This removes particulate matter and sulfur from the exhaust stack, but also releases scrubbed material into the water. 

In addition to continuing the use of its scrubber, the vessel had been using a fuel oil with sulfur content above 0.1 percent for several hours before arrival, according to prosecutors. 

The vessel was immobilized by prosecutors until September 27, when the owner posted a bond of $85 million. The vessel then continued on its commercial voyage to Dunkirk. 

According to prosecutors, the bulker’s master and the vessel operator denied any intentional violation. They claimed that they had been precisely following the guidelines provided by a compliance software program, which was supposed to anticipate the requirement for a fuel changeover. 

In a statement, the prosecutor’s office said that the operating company could be fined as much as $1 million. The captain also faces prosecution in July 2024.

France has banned the use of open-loop scrubbers within three miles of French shores since January 2022, and the prohibition applies to all vessels, foreign and domestic. The penalties are severe, according to the Budd Group: captains risk up to seven years in prison and fines can reach as high as about $11 million, depending on the particulars of the vessel. In most other scrubber-free jurisdictions, violations are treated as an administrative offense. 

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