Sulphur cap solutions by mid-2019, says IMO chief

IMO secretary general Kitack Lim. Credit: IMO
IMO secretary general Kitack Lim. Credit: IMO

International Maritime Organization (IMO) secretary general Kitack Lim said he has a “deep appreciation” for the industry’s positive response to the sulphur oxide emissions cap during a period in which the market for much of the industry remains slow.

Speaking at Hamburg’s SMM event, on a panel with International Chamber of Shipping chairman Esben Poulsson and Frank Starke, chief executive officer of Caterpillar Motoren, Lim said the IMO and industry leaders have met several times to discuss issues raised by those who work in shipping with regard to meeting the forthcoming emissions target, adding that more such meetings are scheduled through next year.

“Availability [of low-sulphur fuel oil (LSFO)] and supply issues have been identified and constructive discussions on how to handle these issues have taken place,” Lim said. “We will make a resolution step by step.”

The sulphur limit will also be discussed at next month’s Marine Environment Protection Committee and on subsequent occasions, but Lim said all meetings should be concluded and solutions found for all complexities by mid-2019.

Representing shipowners, Poulsson said that, although owners are aware that the regulation and its implementation will go ahead, the cap presents a “monumental challenge” for an industry that is “adaptable and progressive”.

“We’ll have to deal with it, but the real problem is that we don’t know what the costs will be,” said Poulsson, describing the July meeting with the IMO as “successful”. Poulsson pointed out, however, that owners have much to contend with, including the introduction of the Ballast Water Treatment Convention, the sulphur cap, and other environmental matters.

Asked if owners are overstating the issues around the availability of LSFO, Poulsson responded, “Owners are not crying wolf. There is a lack of concrete information on what the availability of LSFO will be, but if there’s no problem, then that’s great.”

Adding the technical dimension to the discussion was Starke, who argued, “Regulations are usually introduced gradually, but this is a step change for all ships overnight, whether they are new ships or existing vessels with 30-year-old equipment.”

Starke said one of the challenges ahead is that there is not a clear idea of what type of fuels will be available. He said owners should “expect challenges” if the various blends have differing properties.

In conclusion, Lim said, “By next March, the discussions will need to have ended and substantial action will be necessary, with concrete progress towards 2020.”