IMO Counting down to sulphur 2020

Limiting air pollution from ships; protecting human health and the environment

New requirements for ships to cut sulphur oxide emissions enter into effect on 1 January 2020, marking a sea change in fuel used by ships, globally, which will significantly reduce air pollution from ships with positive benefits for human health and the environment. 

IMO has been preparing ahead of the implementation date. From 1 January 2020, under IMO’s MARPOL convention for the prevention of pollution from ships, the sulphur content of fuel oil used by ships operating outside designated emission control areas shall not exceed 0.50% – representing an 80% cut from the current 3.50% limit.    

At a roundtable industry meeting hosted by IMO at its London Headquarters (21 June), participants were updated on the latest guidance, treaty amendments and other instruments emanating from IMO to support the implementation of the “sulphur 2020” rule. All of these have been developed by Member States working through IMO, in collaboration with stakeholders, recognising the need for cooperation in order to develop and deliver technically robust instruments for international shipping.   

Industry participants* from the shipping, oil refinery and bunker industries welcomed with appreciation the effort made by IMO to address concerns and reviewed progress towards implementation.

The IMO Secretariat highlighted the latest decisions emanating from IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 74), including adoption of guidelines on consistent implementation, port State control and other guidance; and from the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 101), including the adoption of Recommended interim measures to enhance the safety of ships relating to the use of oil fuel.

Industry participants reported on their work, including the latest version of the ICS Guidance to Shipping Companies and Crews on Preparing for Compliance with the 2020 ‘Global Sulphur Cap’ which will be published in the first week of July 2019; a Joint Industry Project developing industry guidelines with a focus on safety to support implementation, including training; updated charter clauses developed to address sulphur 2020 and fuel issues; investment by the oil refining industry in new blends of fuel oil to meet the limit; and potentially linking sulphur 2020 provisions with current ship inspection programmes.

Participants recalled that 1 January 2020 is now less than six months away and expressed their commitment to enhancing collaboration, including further information sharing among stakeholders, as appropriate, to make a smooth transition to the 0.50% limit, recognizing the benefits for human health and the environment.

Availability of compliant fuel oil

Views were exchanged on the general availability of fuel to meet the 0.50% limit, with ships expected to begin taking on 0.50% low sulphur blended fuels from October/November onwards, in order to be ready for 1 January 2020. A forecast from the International Energy Agency (IEA), in April 2019 forecasts that the refineries will have capacity to make the compliant fuel oil available. Compliant fuel oil has already been made available for testing by some ships.

The roundtable participants urged the need for the oil refinery and bunker industry to continue, and strengthen where possible, their efforts to provide sufficient compliant fuels as early as possible to allow more ships to test trial for experience gaining. There was also a need for more information on the new fuel products to be made widely available.

Fuel oil safety

Potential safety issues with new blends of fuel oil have been recognised and IMO guidelines provide advice on steps to take to address those risks.  

It was noted that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has been developing a Publicly Available Specification (PAS) related to the 0.50% limit. The PAS will provide additional guidance on the application of the existing ISO 8217 specification for fuels for use in marine diesel engines and boilers, for example, compatibility and stability of new blends of fuel oil. 

The roundtable participants highlighted the need to provide further information on arising safety issues and to enhance crew training in anticipation of the new fuels being made available before the end of 2019, and to highlight the safety aspects in particular. 

Enforcement and compliance

Consistent enforcement by port State control was recognised as essential to ensure a level playing field and ensure the shipping market would not become distorted. Participants acknowledged the adoption of relevant 2019 Guidelines for port State control under MARPOL Annex VI chapter 3. The IMO Sub-Committee on Implementation of IMO Instruments (III 6) meets 1-5 July and could provide an opportunity for information sharing by port State control regimes.

Reporting to IMO and information sharing

Participants recognized the need to further improve reporting and information sharing through the IMO Global Integrated Shipping Information system (GISIS). MARPOL Annex VI requires information to be provided, including on fuel oil availability, incidents of non-availability of compliant fuel oil and fuel oil quality. Work is already under way to review the current MARPOL Annex VI module to provide greater scope for data entry and to make the module more user friendly. 

Raising awareness

Participants agreed on the need to continue to raise awareness about sulphur 2020.

An open source free to access e-learning course is being developed through the joint industry project, for use by seafarers and others. The course will offer three modules, the first will focus on IMO 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 new IMO leaflet (download here) outlines the requirement, answers the most frequently asked questions about the rule and provides a list of the instruments supporting implementation, best practice guidance, port State control and sampling guidelines and others.

IMO will publish a compilation of all related guidance, best practices and so on, as a single IMO publication (hard copy and electronic formats) later this year.  

IMO conference on 2020 and alternative fuels

IMO plans to hold a conference in October 2019 with wide participation from stakeholders, to provide updates on planning for 2020. The conference will also include a session on the latest developments regarding alternative fuels and low carbon technologies.

*Roundtable discussion on the consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit, IMO Headquarters, 21 June 2019: The meeting was opened by IMO Secretary-Kitack Lim and was attended by representatives from IMO Secretariat and: International Chamber of Shipping (ICS); BIMCO; Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF); International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO); International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (INTERCARGO); IPIECA; The Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST); International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA).