It depends on who you listen to: one analyst tells you low sulphur fuel will be readily available come the 1 January 2020 and then another pops up and suggests the reluctance of some ship owners to comply with the IMO’s requirement for 0.5% sulphur content fuel by fitting scrubbers, will result in a shift in demand to MGO and ultra-low sulphur fuel oil (ULSFO) causing the price spike in 2020. Now the question is obviously how many ship owners did that analyst talk to before making that statement?

It has taken years to define the regulations and yet there is no clear blue water ahead of us with little more than 18 months before they come into force. Some regions will have a good supply of new bunkered fuel from the outset – again according to industry experts – and the Caribbean has been mentioned because it is a key storage hub. The availability of fuel oil, diesel and ULSFO will be good we are told but this will not be the case for some global shipping bunkers and we wonder if the busy Pacific Northwest region will be fully up to speed from the outset of the IMO 2020 cap.

It was interesting to read that researchers from a Swedish university say they have developed a method for remotely monitoring emissions from marine vessels, which they have used to investigate the effects of the recent regulations. The work has been carried out through the Danish Environmental Protection Agency and the European Union (EU) projects Compmon and Envisum. One of the ways they carry out the surveys is low flying over a selected region and this has apparently highlighted that between 87%-98% of ships comply with the tougher ECA regulations for sulphur emissions introduced in northern Europe in 2015. It also flags up that the lowest levels of compliance were observed in the western part of the English Channel and in the middle of the Baltic Sea. An additional use of remote sensing is to advise port authorities as to which ships they should select for on-board fuel inspections and these inspections are a prerequisite for taking legal action against rule breakers. Bad news for those who think they might ‘get away’ with breaking the rules while on the high seas! Recently, the Norwegian Maritime Authority fined a ship NOK 600,000 (about EUR 63,000) for noncompliance. This was detected by the Great Belt measuring station and reported to the Norwegian Authorities.

But back to our original premise: when will the new fuel become readily available. Much of the initial preparation to take this fuel on board will necessitate in a comprehensive cleaning of fuel tanks beforehand. This rather ‘loose’ changeover period might cause initial concerns for ship owners and operators and yet much of the indecision can be removed once comprehensive announcements about fuel availability and location is made.