IBIA welcomes signs that work may soon get underway on developing a new chapter specifically for oil-based fuels with a flashpoint below 60°C within the context of the IGF Code, which would simplify the process for ships to demonstrate that they are designed to use such fuels safely.
Germany made a presentation to the 5th session of the IMO’s sub-Committee on Carriage of Cargoes and Containers (CCC 5) last week, showing results of a study to evaluate diesel fuels with a flashpoint between 52°C and 60°C in shipping. Using IMO Formal Safety Assessment (FSA) guidelines, the study undertaken by DNV-GL concluded that risks associated with using diesel fuels with a flashpoint of 52°C compared to 60°C were for the most part not very different.
China also submitted a paper to CCC 5 pointing to a research report by China Classification Society saying that while the lower flashpoint fuels can cause an increase in flammable vapour, the risks associated with this are manageable.
China furthermore informed CCC 5 that it has issued stricter domestic standards in response to air pollution from ships, and requires domestic ships to use low sulphur diesel with a minimum flashpoint limit of 55°C. It pointed out that European countries also have a minimum 55°C flashpoint limit for inland waterway ships, meaning these countries have had experience in the application of fuel oil with a flashpoint of not less than 55°C.
There was an attempt in recent years to revise the SOLAS Chapter II-2 minimum 60°C limit for marine fuels, aligning the limit for marine distillates with the minimum flashpoint limit for automotive diesel, which is 52°C in the US and 55°C in Europe. Studies presented to the IMO in connection with this proposal suggested it would be safe to reduce the SOLAS flashpoint limit for these fuels to 52°C and thereby widen the supply pool of fuels complying with lower sulphur limits, but the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), at its 96th session in May 2016, shut the door on amending the SOLAS flashpoint limit. It was agreed instead that use of fuels with a flashpoint below 60°C can only be used in accordance with the IGF Code (International Code of Safety for Ships using Gases or other Low-flashpoint Fuels).
The IGF Code was developed to deal with LNG, but its general requirements nevertheless apply to all vessels above 500 gross tonnage that install low flash point fuel systems. Specific regulations for other low-flashpoint fuels can be added as new chapters to the Code, but in the meantime, ships installing fuel systems to operate low flashpoint fuels will need to individually demonstrate that their design meet the Code’s general requirements.
The safety requirements for ships to use a low flashpoint diesel are far removed from LNG hence a new IGF Code chapter is desirable. It is hoped this could be relatively straight-forward and short, in line with the recommendations seen in the research undertaken by Germany and China.
It was agreed at CCC 5 to re-establish the Correspondence Group on Development of Technical Provisions for the Safety of Ships using Low-flashpoint Fuels. It will look at, among other things, the issue of low-flashpoint oil fuels and advice the sub-Committee on how best to proceed in a report to CCC 6, which will meet in September 2019.
If work progresses smoothly, a new chapter of the IGF Code on low-flashpoint diesel could in theory come into force in 2024.