Shippers lash out at new California CARB rules

The Port of San Diego has deployed a “bonnet system” to help reduce emissions from ships visiting the Southern California port.
The Port of San Diego has deployed a “bonnet system” to help reduce emissions from ships visiting the Southern California port.
The Port of San Diego has deployed a “bonnet system” to help reduce emissions from ships visiting the Southern California port.

The shipping industry is speaking out against a new rule from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) that would expand exhaust standards and necessitate the installation of diesel particulate filters (DPFs) on many ferries and tugboats in operation in the state with leaders calling the plan dangerous and unfeasible.

The CARB regulations, which were adopted last year and are being phased in now, mandate that most workboats in California transition to the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Tier 3 or Tier 4 engine standards. For most, this would require a retrofit with a DPF. 

The devices remove much of soot-like exhaust that emits from diesel engines. 

Citing fire risks, DPFs “have a terrible track record when we’ve seen those devices used in trucks,” Peter Schrappen, vice president of the Pacific Coast region for the American Waterways Operators, told Professional Mariner Magazine.

Ford and Jaguar have recalled vehicles over DPFs, stating that the heat trapped by the particulate collection caused fires. In 2019, trucking associations sued CARB over a mandate to install DPFs in trucks citing fire risk, but withdrew the lawsuit in 2022.

In response to a request for comment from Professional Mariner, CARB did not make available any of its board members or staff. 

A spokesperson did supply an emailed statement, defending the new regulations. It said that the stipulations underwent a review process, which found no increased fire risk. 

“Tier 4 engines with DPFs installed do not operate at a higher temperature than engines certified to less stringent emission standards,” it stated. In addition, all ships are regulated by state and U.S. Coast Guard safety standards.

Industry groups also say that there is not yet an infrastructure of suppliers and installers of DPFs that could retrofit all the vessels that fall under the new rule.

“In an ideal world, these DPFs would be safe and available off the shelf for the industry,” stated an opinion article signed by Sly Hunter, the San Francisco and Oakland representative of the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots. “The problem is – they are not. There are no DPFs commercially available for our sector of maritime.”

Schrappen said among AWO’s members, there are 68 workboats that would fall under the new rule and the cost of retrofitting all of them is about $1.3 billion. Their operators need more time, he said.

“We would like a five-year phase-in of the DPFs that would allow the vessel class societies like the American Bureau of Shipping to deem them as safe and that would allow our vessels to get on dry dock,” he said. 

The U.S. Coast Guard’s former top safety official for the Indo-Pacific region has echoed some of these concerns. As CARB considered new standards, Capt. Gregory A. Callaghan, then chief of the Prevention Division, wrote to the board. 

In a letter dated August 6, 2021, he expressed doubt that operators had the resources to retrofit all the vessels. 

“If the lack of suitable engines continues to be an issue when the compliance dates come to fruition, owners would be required to replace the vessel, which could prove costly for many owners and operators,” he wrote. 

The emailed statement from CARB contends that ship operators can file for availability extensions if they can’t find a way to meet the new standards. 

Bill Miller is director of marine fueling solutions worldwide at AXI International, a fuel management company headquartered in Fort Myers, Fl., and has been installing DPFs for more than 40 years. 

He told Professional Mariner the devices do not pose a fire risk if installed professionally and competently. “Particulate filtration causes no issue as long as it’s sized properly to the engine,” he said.

He said he couldn’t comment on the costs or feasibility of retrofitting dozens of boats in California. There are too many variables for each boat.

Miller added that most of AXI’s marine customers for DPFs are private yacht owners. The shipping industry has been slow to adapt the technology and he blames a knee-jerk reaction to costs, saying, “You get all this pushback from these people because they don’t want to spend money.”