Shipowners Call for Ban on Carrying High Sulfur Fuel

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Published Jan 22, 2018 1:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

An unusual coalition of shipping associations and environmental groups have joined together to advocate for a general ban on the carriage of high sulfur heavy fuel oil (HFO), except aboard vessels with exhaust scrubbers. 

After 2020, IMO regulations will prohibit ships from burning fuel with more than 0.5 percent sulfur content, unless the ship is equipped with a scrubber to remove sulfur oxides (SOx). This prohibition is expected to lead to human health and environmental benefits, as sulfur dioxide is harmful to the human respiratory system even at very low concentrations. 

However, the regulation creates an enforcement question. As presently written, it still allows ships to carry non-compliant fuel oil in their bunker tanks, so long as they do not burn it. The open letter points out that there is little legitimate reason for a ship without a scrubber to be carrying non-compliant fuels. If IMO allows all ships to carry cheap, high sulfur fuels, it could enable unscrupulous operators to avoid the law and create an uneven playing field for reputable companies that invest (heavily) in compliance. "Any failure by governments to ensure consistent implementation and enforcement could . . . lead to serious market distortion and unfair competition," the group warned. "To secure the intended environmental and health benefits . . . it is of utmost importance that enforcement of this standard is efficient and robust globally."

BIMCO, Clean Shipping Coalition, Cruise Lines International Association, Friends of the Earth U.S., International Chamber of Shipping, International Parcel Tankers’ Association, INTERTANKO, Pacific Environment, World Shipping Council, and WWF Global Arctic Programme have all signed the joint appeal. Industry groups and the flag states of Norway and the Cook Islands have already introduced proposals to the IMO that would ban the carriage of high sulfur fuels about ships without scrubbers. IMO's Subcommittee on Pollution Prevention and Response will consider these proposals at its next meeting, beginning February 5.