The 2020 IMO sulphur cap will be a regulatory burden to many and yet the begrudging acceptance that many seem to have for it means it will be less of an issue in the long-term; the real issue is the short-term. Under this global cap ships will have to use marine fuels with a sulphur content of no more than 0.5 percent by Jan. 1, 2020. The aim is to  cut sulphur emissions in the shipping industry by 85 percent compared to today’s levels, with the aim of improving air quality and protecting the environment. The latest news is that following a meeting in February 2018, the IMO decided to move forward with a ban on the carriage of fuel oil on board ships that do not comply with the new low sulphur limit.But the real issue in this initial period concerns the supply side and the question is, will there be sufficient compliant fuel oil in bunkering ports to meet the demand for the same.

There is still no definitive word on this and despite the calming utterances from some of the refiners and the claims from some owners and ship managers that this is the most serious part of the equation, the industry is waiting for an answer that will mean calmer waters for all. There is no turning back from this and yet we are sailing towards a deadline with no real agreement on how much and where the new compliant fuel will be.

Many ship owners, operators and managers are still thinking about this and wondering how they will source the new fuel: this is a worry but have they thought about the preparation that is needed by the middle of 2019 to be ready to accept this low sulphur mixture? Think about tank cleaning and it brings a whole new dimension to timetables for compliance. The cap has a start date of January 1 2020: ship owners should have a compliance deadline of mid-2019 to be truly prepared.