IMO Members Come to Grips with Sulphur Cap Implementation Issues

A working group of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has made some headway on the sulphur testing and verification issues that are key for global implementation of the 0.5% sulphur cap set to enter into force on January 1, 2020.

illustration. Image Courtesy: Pixabay under CC0 Creative Commons license

The intersessional working group (ISWG) meeting of the Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR), held last week at IMO, considered various proposals and agreed that only one reference test method, namely ISO 8754, should be included in Regulation 2 of MARPOL Annex VI.

Also up for discussion were regulatory changes regarding sulphur verification for samples taken from ships’ fuel systems, known as in-use samples, the International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA) said.

The current method in appendix VI could require further testing by a second laboratory. As informed, the amendments to the appendix are expected to be discussed in February next year and there are two possible directions this could take.

According to IBIA, one of these is to treat all samples (in-use and MARPOL) in exactly the same way, meaning a sulphur test result from one laboratory should be considered as meeting the regulatory limit as long as the test result does not exceed the limit and the 95% confidence limit. The other option would allow the 95% confidence limit to be applied to the in-use sample, but not to the MARPOL sample. This would align the MARPOL sample verification with how ISO 4259 treats the supplier’s retained sample in the event of a dispute, the association said.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) said it was encouraged by efforts made by IMO member states to resolve the pressing practical challenges.

Speaking of the sample testing progress, ICS said this should help avoid potential scenarios where the sample taken during bunkering receives an acceptable test result only for the in-use fuel to be found non-compliant.

“ISO announced that the existing industry standard for marine fuel oils, ISO 8217, already addresses the new 0.5% fuel blends that will be used by many ships to comply in 2020. ISO also advised that it will be providing guidance on the application of the standard to these new blended fuels,” ICS Secretary General, Peter Hinchliffe remarked.

“In view of recent concerns, ISO’s confirmation that no revision of the standards is needed prior to 2020 is very welcome as is ISO’s recognition that existing tools to assess compatibility are inadequate and its reassurance that ISO is actively seeking solutions before the 2020 deadline.”

Hinchliffe added it was vital for shipowners and crews to have confidence that new fuels will indeed be safe and compatible before taking delivery, which they will need to start doing several months in advance of January 2020.

ICS has also welcomed the development of a template for ship specific ‘Implementation Plans’, which will be adopted by the Marine Environment Protection Committee in October.

“This template will help ship operators to prepare for implementation and demonstrate good faith in doing everything possible to ensure compliance, which will be important if compliant or compatible fuel is not available in every port during the first few weeks of implementation. Throughout last week’s meeting, the industry stressed the need for a pragmatic approach to enforcement in the event of any initial teething problems that are beyond the control of ship operators, and IMO has agreed that Port State Control authorities may take account of a ship’s Implementation Plan when verifying compliance” Hinchliffe explained.

ICS added that solid progress was also made on draft guidelines for consistent implementation, fuel oil non-availability reporting, verification issues and amendments to the guidelines for Port State Control.

“More work is obviously needed to fully address the important issues raised by the industry, but the usual IMO spirit of co-operation has moved us all significantly closer to achieving smooth implementation in January 2020,” said Hinchliffe.

ICS is now developing detailed guidance on implementation of the global sulphur cap, which it will make available to shipowners via its member national shipowner associations during the next few weeks.