Gard: Switch to Low Sulphur Fuel Prior to Entering ECA

The US Coast Guard (USCG) has voiced concerns about the increasing number of vessels at risk of experiencing loss of propulsion when performing change-over operations to low sulphur fuel, the marine insurer Gard reports.

As part of the increasingly stricter air emission limits enforced through MARPOL Annex VI, vessels operating in the established Emission Control Areas (ECAs) can, as of January 1, 2015, no longer use fuel with a sulphur content exceeding 0.1% by weight unless an approved exhaust gas cleaning system is installed.

As the machinery systems of many vessels were not designed to operate on low sulphur fuels, difficulties can arise when switching from one fuel to another, both during the actual fuel change-over and during continuous operation on low sulphur fuel.

According to the USCG, vessels have reported several incidents involving substantial fuel leakages while switching fuel to ensure compliance with the North American ECA requirements. Although these leakages were contained, the USCG emphasises that fuel releases of any kind can lead to more serious incidents involving pollution, engine room fires, and personal injuries.

The USCG also reports that many losses of propulsion have occurred in various ports and have been associated with fuel change-over processes and procedures.

Gard has warned its members that ships operating within ECA areas, currently the North American area, the US Caribbean Sea area, the Baltic Sea area and the North Sea area, must use low sulphur fuel the entire time the vessel is operating within an ECA, on inbound and outbound transits as well as at the dock.

Each vessel must develop and implement suitable shipboard procedures for fuel change-over in accordance with MARPOL Annex VI, Regulation 14.6, allowing sufficient time to complete the fuel oil change-over prior to crossing the ECA border.