The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is standing its ground on the enforcement of the 2020 sulfur cap, which means that as of January 1, 2020, ships will be banned from burning any marine fuel with a sulfur content above 0.5 pct.
Namely, IMO’s Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR), which met on 5-9 February in London, agreed on draft amendments to the MARPOL Convention on the prevention of pollution from ships (MARPOL Annex VI) to prohibit the carriage of non-compliant fuel oil.
The exception would be ships fitted with an approved “equivalent arrangement” to meet the sulfur limit – such as an exhaust gas cleaning system (EGCS) or so-called “scrubber” – which are already permitted under regulation 4.1 of MARPOL Annex VI.
Furthermore, a ship undertaking trials for ship emission reduction and control technology research can be exempted as well.
The amendments have been forwarded to the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 72) meeting in April 2018, for urgent consideration. Once approved by MEPC 72, they could be adopted at MEPC 73 (October 2018) and could enter into force on March 1, 2020.
“This is an important development that closes a serious loophole in the original agreement. Banning the carriage of non-compliant fuel will make it considerably more difficult for unscrupulous ship operators to ignore the rule, burn cheaper non-compliant fuel, and escape serious sanction. This decision, which must be confirmed by the IMO in April, will mean a cleaner environment and fewer premature deaths from ship air pollution, ”John Maggs, senior policy advisor at Seas At Risk and president of the Clean Shipping Coalition (CSC), an international environmental organization, said.
Ship air pollution is linked to approximately 400,000 premature deaths from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease alone and around 14 million childhood asthma cases annually, according to the latest research. It is also estimated that the new marine sulfur cap will help avoid around 700,000 cancer and cardiovascular disease-related premature deaths and around 40 million childhood asthma cases during the first five years of its implementation.
However, this can only be achieved through robust implementation, which can be very costly.
“The ban on burning high-sulfur fuel that was agreed in 2016 had the right objective, but requires robust enforcement as the additional cost of compliance brings a significant incentive to cheat. By following through with a ban on carrying non-compliant high sulfur fuel, governments would better ensure no one can simply switch to the cheaper, dirty fuel once they leave port and are out of sight of the authorities,” Faig Abbasov, shipping officer at Transport & Environment, a member of the CSC, said.
“This week has been a good example of how the IMO countries take responsibility for both the environment and the shipping industry’s competitiveness. Concerns from both NGOs and shipping organizations have been heard and IMO has shown its ability to act just as a global regulator of a global industry should do,” Maria Skipper Schwenn, Executive Director at Danske Shipping, said.
“This was the first step towards making enforcement of the sulfur requirement more simple. Now IMO begins to work on the practical implications surrounding the implementation in order to ensure that bunker suppliers, ship owners and authorities have the right instruments and guidance to comply with the sulfur regulation. A one-week long meeting dedicated to the implementation of the sulfur requirements has been planned for July 2018,” she added.
The move on the enforcement of the cap on high-sulfur marine fuel does not, however, prevent ships from carrying fuel exceeding the 0.5 pct limit.
“This opens up the possibility of massive avoidance by unscrupulous operators when operating out of sight on the high seas,” CSC believes.
In addition, the IMO’s pollution prevention and response sub-committee agreed to move forward with the consideration of measures to control black carbon emissions from ships and their impact on the Arctic.
Black carbon emissions account for 7-21 pct of shipping’s global climate impact, research shows. Its main impact is felt in the Arctic, as black carbon warms up and accelerates the melting of polar ice. The research also shows the switch from dirty heavy fuel oil to higher quality fuels like marine distillates would reduce ship black carbon by, on average, 33 pct.