Vessel operators push fuel ban scheme ahead of IMO meeting

Vessel operators want guidance for establishing fuel sulphur content. Credit: Veritas Petroleum Services
Vessel operators want guidance for establishing fuel sulphur content. Credit: Veritas Petroleum Services

Vessels should be banned from carrying high-sulphur bunker fuel – unless outfitted with a scrubber – to ensure compliance once the global sulphur cap goes into force in 2020, shipowner representatives asserted.

Six vessel groups – BIMCO, International Chamber of Shipping, World Shipping Council, INTERTANKO, International Parcel Tankers’ Association, and Cruise Lines International Association – joined with four green organisations, including Friends of the Earth and the World Wildlife Fund, to promote the scheme two weeks before the fifth session of the Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR), to be held at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on 5–9 February.

The 2020 cap, which cuts the maximum allowable sulphur content of marine fuel from 3.5% to 0.5%, “will significantly increase ships’ operating costs and will present major challenges to governments that must ensure consistent enforcement across the globe”, the shipowner and environmental groups said in joint statement on 22 January. “Any failure by governments to ensure consistent implementation and enforcement could also lead to serious market distortion and unfair competition.”

They noted that unless a ship is using an approved equivalent compliance method, such as a scrubber installed in the vessel stack, “there should be no reason for it to be carrying non-compliant fuels for combustion on board”.

The six vessel operator representatives submitted a formal proposal outlining the ban to the IMO in November, to be discussed at the PPR meeting next month. The proposal, which will require amending Annex VI to the MARPOL convention, asserts that changes to the convention should be complemented by guidelines that address several topics, including the non-availability of low-sulphur fuel and the need for a global Fuel Oil Non-Availability Report system, to be managed by port states.

Guidance for establishing that fuel oil sulphur levels as delivered meet the sulphur content stated on the bunker delivery note, along with guidance for establishing the sulphur content of fuel oil in use, including sampling and testing methods, were also recommended by vessel operators.

The IMO fuel ban proposal followed similar calls from other factions within the shipping industry – notably Trident Alliance, a group of 42 vessel operators that was established in 2014 specifically to address shipowner concerns related to sulphur cap regulations.

Trident Alliance chairperson Anna Larsson told IHS Markit in November that a high-sulphur fuel ban “would go a long way to enabling easier and effective enforcement” by port state control.

Much of the attention being paid by vessel operators towards enforcing the 2020 cap can be attributed to an expected jump in operating costs caused by the regulation. Bryan Wood-Thomas, vice-president for environmental compliance at WSC, believes the regulation will be one of the most expensive for shipowners in decades.

Wood-Thomas, who participated in IHS Markit’s webinar on the 2020 sulphur cap in November, estimated that the additional operating costs for shipowners of large container ships could be as high as USD400 million per year, and ”tens of billions of dollars” across the shipping industry, he told audience members.

In addition to any action taken at PPR in February, it was agreed last July at the 71st session of the IMO’s Marine Environmental Protection Committee to hold an intersessional working group meeting on the issue in the second half of 2018 “to ensure this vital work is completed by 2020”, the IMO stated.