Ships are being fitted with 'cheat devices' to avoid strict emissions regulations

The gadgets will reportedly be used by many shipping firms. (Getty)

Shipping companies have been accused of cheating environmental legislation with devices that cover up the amount of pollution vessels dump into the sea.

According to The Independent, more than £9.7 million has been spent on devices called open-loop scrubbers which remove noxious fumes from the exhaust of ships which run on heavy fuel oil.

Sulphur emitted by vessels is simply re-routed and expelled into the water around the ships.

The scrubbers not only increase the amount of pollution entering the water but also the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.

Cruise ships are also said to have been fitted with the scrubbers. (Reuters)

The gadgets will reportedly allow companies to adhere to the rules created by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) which come into force next year.

DNV GL, the world’s largest ship classification company, says a total of 3,756 ships have currently been fitted with the scrubbers.

It is believed the number is likely to exceed 4,000 by the time the law changes next year.

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Larger vessels, such as bulk carriers, container ships and oil tankers, which have the biggest engines were the first to make use of the technology.

But experts have warned the devices could have a potentially devastating effect on the environment.

Current IMO rules allow ships to use open-loop scrubbers as what they call “equivalents”.

These are defined as: “Any fitting, material, appliance or apparatus to be fitted in a ship or other procedures, alternative fuel oils, or compliance methods used as an alternative to that required.”

IMO members states recently approved the use of open-loop scrubbers to meet the incoming sulphur cap

Some regional ports, however, have introduced rules to prevent their use citing environmental concerns.

The IMO told the Independent it had already “adopted strict criteria for discharge of washwater from exhaust gas cleaning systems”.

The organisation also said it would be “undertaking a review of the 2015 guidelines on exhaust gas cleaning systems. The guidelines include, among other things, washwater discharge standards.”

Yahoo News has contacted the IMO for comment.