The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has approved and adopted a comprehensive set of guidance and guidelines to support the consistent implementation of the lower 0.50% limit on sulphur in ships’ fuel oil, which will enter into effect from 1 January 2020. Related draft MARPOL amendments were also approved.
The 2020 rule will bring in considerable benefits for the environment and human health. The stricter limit will be applicable globally under IMO’s MARPOL treaty. (In designated emission control areas (ECAs), the sulphur limit will remain at 0.10%.)
Enforcement, compliance with and monitoring of the 2020 sulphur limit is the remit and responsibility of States Party to MARPOL Annex VI. Most ships are expected to utilize new blends of fuel oil which will be produced to meet the 0.50% limit on sulphur in fuel oil or compliant marine gas/diesel oil.
Guidance on 2020 sulphur limit
The IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), meeting for its 74th session (13-17 May):
Adopted 2019 Guidelines for consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit under MARPOL Annex VI – with sections on the impact on fuel and machinery systems resulting from new fuel blends or fuel types; verification issues and control mechanism and actions, including port State control and samples of fuel oil used on board; a standard reporting format for fuel oil non-availability (fuel oil non-availability report (FONAR); and possible safety implications relating to fuel oils meeting the 0.50% sulphur limit.
Adopted 2019 Guidelines for port State control under MARPOL Annex VI Chapter 3, providing updated enforcement guidance for provisions including regulation 13 “nitrogen oxides” and regulation 14 “sulphur oxides and particulate matter”.
Approved Guidance for port State control on contingency measures for addressing non-compliant fuel oil. The guidance covers possible actions to be taken, following discussions between ship, flag State and port State, when a ship is found to have on board non-compliant fuel oil either as a consequence of compliant fuel oil being not available when the ship bunkered fuel oil or the ship identifying through post bunkering testing that the fuel oil on board is non-compliant.
Approved the 2019 Guidelines for on board sampling for the verification of the sulphur content of the fuel oil used on board ships.
Approved Guidance for best practice for Member State/coastal States. This includes best practices intended to assist Member States in carrying out their responsibilities under MARPOL Annex VI, to ensure effective implementation and enforcement of statutory requirements of that Annex. The guidance says that Member States/coastal States should consider actions deemed appropriate, under domestic legal arrangements, with respect to promoting the availability of compliant fuel oils, consistent with regulation 18.1 of MARPOL Annex VI; and Member States or other relevant authorities desiring to do so may decide to establish or promote a licensing scheme for bunker suppliers.
The MEPC 73 in October 2018 had already approved Guidance on the development of a ship implementation plan for the consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit under MARPOL Annex VI (MEPC.1/Circ. 878).
A related MARPOL Annex VI amendment to prohibit the carriage of non-compliant fuel oil used by ships, which was adopted last year, is expected to enter into force on 1 March 2020.
The MEPC also approved a circular to encourage early application of the approved amendments to the verification procedures for a MARPOL Annex VI fuel oil sample.
The draft amendments cover:
Draft amendments to Regulation 2 Definitions, to include new definitions for “Sulphur content of fuel oil” – meaning the concentration of sulphur in any fuel oil, measured in % m/m as tested in accordance with standard acceptable to the Organization; “Low-flashpoint fuel”, to mean gaseous or liquid fuel having a flashpoint lower than otherwise permitted under paragraph 2.1.1 of SOLAS regulation II-2/4; “MARPOL delivered sample”, to mean the sample of fuel oil delivered in accordance with regulation 18.8.1 of MARPOL Annex VI; “In-use sample”, to mean the sample of fuel oil in use on a ship; and “On board sample”, to mean the sample of fuel oil intended to be used or carried for use on board that ship.
Fuel oil sampling and testing – Draft amendments to Regulation 14 Sulphur oxides (SOX) and particulate matter, to add new paragraphs related to in-use and on board fuel oil sampling and testing, to add new paragraphs to require one or more sampling points to be fitted or designated for the purpose of taking representative samples of the fuel oil being used or carried for use on board the ship. The representative samples of the fuel oil being used on board are to be taken in order to verify the fuel oil complies with the regulation.
Reporting on fuel oil quality and availability
The MEPC discussed how to enhance the reporting of data, as required by MARPOL Annex VI regulation 18 on fuel oil quality and availability.
The MEPC approved a draft MEPC circular on reporting of data related to fuel oil availability and safety in GISIS to promote greater understanding of the 0.50 % m/m sulphur limit under MARPOL Annex VI.
The MEPC established a Correspondence Group, to be coordinated by the Secretariat, to report back to MEPC 75, to investigate the reporting of additional items on GISIS; and further usability improvements, if feasible and as appropriate.
The Secretariat was also instructed to report to MEPC 75 a preliminary overview of data on fuel oil quality and availability currently available in GISIS as well as an overview of the current use of GISIS with reference to obligations under regulation 14 and 18.
Exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS)
Some ships use exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS) (“scrubbers”), accepted by their flag States as an alternative equivalent means to meet the sulphur limit requirement.
The Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) is undertaking a review of the 2015 Guidelines on Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (EGCS). The guidelines include, among other things, washwater discharge standards.
The MEPC also instructed the Secretariat to liaise with the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP), an advisory body that advises the United Nations (UN) system on the scientific aspects of marine environmental protection.
The MEPC requested that, subject to sufficient external funding being provided by Member States and other stakeholders, a GESAMP task team be established to assess the available evidence relating to the environmental impact of discharges of exhaust gas cleaning system effluent, with a view to reporting its findings to PPR 7.
IMO sulphur monitoring programme
The MEPC note information provided by the Secretariat on the outcome of the monitoring of the worldwide average sulphur content of marine fuel oils supplied for use on board ships for 2018, based on three sampling and testing service providers. The worldwide average sulphur content (i.e. three-year rolling average) of residual fuel oil was 2.59% and for distillate fuel oil it was 0.08%.
Roundtable meeting and 2020 seminar
The IMO Secretariat plans to hold a further roundtable meeting with representatives from across stakeholders in June 2019 to review progress and share information.
Additionally, to provide an opportunity for wider stakeholder engagement, IMO plans to hold an “IMO2020” seminar at IMO in autumn, as by then there should be a clearer understanding of the availability of compliant fuel oil and some experience of implementation that can be shared. Further details for this seminar will be issued in due course.