IMO approves fuel ban amendments

Ships will no longer be able to carry high-sulphur fuel oil. Credit: Joachim Affeldt
Ships will no longer be able to carry high-sulphur fuel oil. Credit: Joachim Affeldt

Delegates to the International Maritime Organization’s 72nd Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 72) approved draft amendments to the MARPOL convention to ban ships from carrying high-sulphur fuel oil.

The move was expected, given the industry-wide support for the ban, which regulators and shipowners largely agree would help port state control administrations enforce the 0.5% global cap on sulphur contained in bunker fuel, which goes into force on 1 January 2020. If formally adopted at MEPC 73 in October, the ban can take effect as early as 1 March 2020.

The ban would not apply to vessels that use scrubber equipment to clean sulphur emissions in the stack while continuing to burn fuel with sulphur content higher than 0.5%.

Several countries had argued for delaying the ban because of uncertainty about the availability of compliant fuels in 2020 and concerns about fuel safety. “They were advocating a phase of experience-building before not only the use of fuels above 0.50% sulphur is prohibited, but also carriage of such fuels on ships without approved equivalent arrangements such as scrubbers,” the International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA) noted.

“A majority of IMO member states, however, see the carriage ban as a crucial instrument in enabling more effective enforcement of the 2020 sulphur limit and hence, reduce the risk that operators will be tempted to cheat and gain a competitive advantage,” according to IBIA.

Plans to develop a ban on heavy fuel oil (HFO) from Arctic shipping, along with an assessment of the impact of such a ban, were also agreed upon during MEPC 72. Delegates directed a subcommittee to develop a ban on HFO use and carriage for use by ships in the Arctic based on an impact assessment and on an appropriate timescale.

Environmental group Clean Arctic Alliance (CAA) has called for the IMO to ensure the ban will be in place by 2021.

“Any impact assessment must inform, but not delay, progression towards an Arctic HFO ban,” said Sian Prior, CAA’s lead advisor, “and member states must ensure that Arctic communities are not burdened with any costs associated with such a ban.”