Time ticks on. By the sound of it the fuel of choice for the new era generated by the IMO come 2020 will be low sulphur fuel. But this depends on who you talk to ; there are those still investigating the use of scrubbers but the alternatives are switching to LSFO and the availability of fuel treatments, something that has not been widely spoken about here for a while.

Senior figures in the maritime and shipping world understand the issues and dilemmas thrown up by the cap: The global sulphur emission limits for marine fuels will be cut to 0.5% in 2020, from the current 3.5%. Ship operators will therefore have to switch to cleaner, more expensive fuel or to alternative fuels or invest in exhaust gas cleaning systems also known as scrubbers, to comply with the new limits. Let’s add they should also consider the benefits of fuel treatments – but we can leave that to another discussion.

Still the questions remain: The industry is banking on refineries to deliver compliant fuel and when is it going to be available and where in the world? The idea that shipping can cross the oceans seeking out LSFO in the first instance will negate a lot of the goodwill already generated (somewhat reluctantly) on the part of shipowners and managers.

Refinery

But let us not get too carried away with the bigger picture when we are still grappling with the choice of scrubbers or compliant fuels.  At the moment it appears the uptake of scrubbers has been very limited so far, in part due to the huge upfront capital expenditure and that is no surprise when figures hovering around the $3-6 million average are quoted. When the ball finally stops rolling the price will be the arbiter of such decisions. It won’t remove the compatibility issues in the early stages, including the risks of cat fines and the rush to have LSFO in tanks in the dying weeks of 2019.

Ship owners and operators have much to consider in the next 12 months and that will surely start mid-term when the practical issues such as tank cleaning, selecting the right bunkering operation and deciding when to make the switchover begin.