IMO on track to introduce high sulphur fuel carriage ban from March 2020
Amendments to MARPOL Annex VI to prohibit not just the use, but also carriage of bunkers above 0.50% sulphur, have been agreed this week, taking into account a request from IBIA and IPIECA to slightly modify the regulatory text to make sure it doesn’t unintentionally prevent bunker barges from carrying high sulphur bunker fuel for delivery to ships with scrubbers.
The carriage ban was initially discussed in plenary at the 72nd session of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 72) on Tuesday, using amended regulatory text developed by the IMO’s Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR 5) in February.
The key issue up for consideration was whether to go ahead with the amendment, which, if formally adopted at MEPC 73 in October this year, means a carriage ban can take effect as early as 1 March, 2020.
For some, that is too early. A number of countries argued for deferring the carriage ban until a later date due to uncertainty about the availability of compliant fuels in 2020, and concerns about the safety of the fuels on offer. 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.
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.
The other issue up for discussion was the clarity of the amended text for Regulation 14, which was developed at PPR 5: “The sulphur content of any fuel oil used or carried for use on board ships shall not exceed 0.50% m/m.”
IBIA co-sponsored a submission to MEPC 72 with IPIECA, calling for a small modification to prevent unintended consequences because this could be read as not allowing bunker barges to carry “fuel oil for use on ships” with above 0.50% sulphur content.
Our proposal received strong support as the need for a clear, unambiguous text was recognised. The text eventually agreed, following deliberations in the Air Pollution Working Group, was as follows: “The sulphur content of fuel oil used or carried for use on board a ship shall not exceed 0.50% m/m.”
There was also discussion regarding whether there was a need to include a reference in this part of the MARPOL regulation to show a clear link to the regulation 4.1 of MARPOL Annex VI on equivalent means, to make it crystal clear that the carriage ban does not apply to ships equipped with approved abatement technology such as scrubbers.
While there was some support for this, on balance, it was deemed unnecessary and would open the door to having to add cross-references to regulation 4.1 throughout other parts of the MARPOL Annex VI regulation.
Besides, some argued, the regulation will be clearly understood by the authorities in charge of enforcing it. The ship’s IAPP certificate will clearly state whether the ship has an approved equivalent arrangement.
One member state, however, reserved its position on this and may propose an editorial amendment to MEPC 73 to make the exemption from the carriage ban for ships with scrubbers more explicit.
Apart from the amendment of Regulation 14 to prevent not just the use, but also the carriage of fuel oil above 0.50% sulphur, the amended text to be adopted has been shortened significantly as mentions of previous sulphur limits in emission control areas (ECAs) and outside ECAs will be redundant from the start of 2020, and hence have been removed.
The new regulatory text only specifies the 0.50% limit under Regulation 14.1, and the 0.10% applicable in ECAs under Regulation 14.4, which has also been slightly amended to read: “While a ship is operating within an emission control area, the sulphur content of fuel oil used on board that ship shall not exceed 0.10% m/m.”
After being formally approved at MEPC 72 this Friday, the amendments to MARPOL Annex VI are expected to be formally adopted at MEPC 73 and enter into force on 1 March, 2020.