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More than 4,000 ship engines caught up in Japanese fuel data scandal

More than 4,000 ship engines caught up in Japanese fuel data scandal
Sam Chambers April 25, 2024

An investigation is underway in Japan with overtones of the famous Volkswagen emissions scandal. More than 4,000 ship engines could be affected.

The transport ministry sent inspectors to two factories belonging to IHI Corp today after the Japanese manufacturing giant admitted it had falsified fuel economy data for ship and railway engines for at least 20 years.

The probes started at IHI Power Systems’ plants in Niigata and Ota after IHI announced that test data of 4,361 engines had been manipulated. The vast majority – 4,215 – were for ship engines for domestic and overseas clients. IHI came clean on the scandal after a whistleblower first made the allegations two months ago.

As well as falsifying fuel consumption rates, the engines could be in violation of the International Maritime Organization’s nitrogen oxide emissions regulations, potentially causing urgent, mass multi-billion dollar retrofits for a sizeable chunk of the global merchant fleet at a time where ship repair yards are already highly busy.

The ministry has moved to stop IHI from selling further engines until it is confident that the company’s output is meeting required standards. IHI’s aircraft engines also came in for a government probe five years ago.

The 2015 Volkswagen emissions scandal is the most famous recent example of manufacturers knowingly misleading customers. The German car manufacturer was found to have intentionally programmed turbocharged direct injection (TDI) diesel engines to activate their emissions controls only during laboratory emissions testing, which caused the vehicles’ NOx output to meet US standards during regulatory testing. However, the vehicles emitted up to 40 times more NOx in real-world driving.

Shipping has had previous engine scandals. MAN, itself a subsidiary of Volkswagen, paid a fine in 2011 over its misleading fuel consumption claims while in 2016, Wärtsilä revealed deviations in certain fuel consumption measurement tests were detected at Wärtsilä’s delivery centre in Trieste in Italy.