The IMarEST was called upon to contribute its expertise to talks at IMO on the consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit for commercial ships at the special invitation of the Secretary-General. IMarEST participation was sought to bring perspectives from the professional marine engineering community to the debate.
Convening with less than six months before the regulation enters force on the 1 January 2020, the roundtable discussion focused on steps that could be taken to minimise the burden of the upcoming regulation on the shipping industry.
IMarEST joined other industry organisations in describing the challenges that vessel owners and operators are contending with as they ready themselves for the transition. Questions still surround fuel availability, the wide variety of compliant fuels, and cost differentials.
Additionally, there are a host of safety considerations relating to fuel compatibility, stability, handling and storage, which are yet to be fully addressed. Furthermore, it is not just ship owners who may struggle as there has been no formal ‘capacity-building’ programme to help member States maritime administrations prepare for policing and enforcing the new rules.
IMarEST recalled the introduction of Emission Control Areas (ECAs) in 2015 when the maximum allowable fuel sulphur content for ships sailing in certain waters was cut to 0.10% from 1.00%. Vessels that failed to properly plan ahead prior to the enforcement of the new rules encountered issues such as the availability of complaint fuels and fuel stability and compatibility, however, adjusted to the new regime over time.
The difference this time is that the new limit is global in scope, which puts additional pressure on refineries and bunker suppliers to deliver low sulphur fuel in the required volumes when needed.
During proceedings, a study done by the International Energy Agency (IEA) was presented, which forecasts there will be enough compliant fuel to satisfy demand. It also suggests scrubber installations will grow fivefold in the next five years (from around 1,000 today to 5,200 by 2024). There is no question that refineries will be pivotal to the successful implementation of the 2020 regulation. Many have invested heavily in adapting processes to ramp up production of lower sulphur fractions. Like vessel owners, they won’t be able to ascertain the full implications of the switch until it happens.
The good news is that blended fuels are already on the market. All that needs to change is the ‘recipe’ for the implementation of the 2020 regulation. In contrast to existing blends, the performance of new ones is still being assessed, resulting in uncertainty within the shipping market as the deadline for implementation rapidly approaches. Encouragingly, an ISO study has found that most samples tested so far are compatible with marine engines. However, IMarEST believes greater transparency in disseminating information on blended fuels characteristics and their test results would reassure ship operators and ease the implementation of the regulation.
Each of the industry bodies participating in the roundtable was asked to report on preparatory work and activities they are doing in readiness for 1 January 2020. Besides encouraging our members to include the regulation as part of their Continuing Professional Development activities, IMarEST has engaged in more targeted initiatives. Specifically, it has:
- Launched a survey on Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (EGCS) as part of our Engine Room Perspectives series
- Participated in developing a Joint Industry Guidance document on the supply and use of 0.50% sulphur marine fuel.
- Launched a campaign to gather feedback from the membership on their experiences of the 2020 Sulphur Limit
- Published regular updates in our membership magazine, Marine Professional, aimed at raising awareness
- Published an information paper that addressed frequently asked questions
- Contributed through our Emissions from Shipping SIG and Technical Leadership Board to discussions at IMO committees and IMO Working Groups on Air Pollution
IMO is planning to hold a follow-up conference on the implementation of the regulation in October and to publish all mandatory instruments related to the regulation as a supplement to MARPOL Annex VI. For more details, please see the IMO’s official roundtable summary.