Concerns about compliance and the possibility of non-compliance out on the high seas has prompted the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to look at draft amendments to the forthcoming sulphur 2020 cap regulations. These latest changes that will mean that bunker barges carrying high sulphur bunker fuel for delivery to ships with scrubbers would not be at risk of falling foul of the new regulations.

A recent feature in Port News looked at this and reported:

“Amendments to MARPOL Annex VI to prohibit not just the use, but also carriage of bunkers above 0.50% sulphur, have been agreed this week, taking into account a request from IBIA and IPIECA to slightly modify the regulatory text to make sure it doesn’t unintentionally prevent bunker barges from carrying high sulphur bunker fuel for delivery to ships with scrubbers, IBIA said in its press release.

The carriage ban was initially discussed in plenary at the 72nd session of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 72) on Tuesday, using amended regulatory text developed by the IMO’s Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR 5) in February.

The key issue up for consideration was whether to go ahead with the amendment, which, if formally adopted at MEPC 73 in October this year, means a carriage ban can take effect as early as 1 March, 2020.

For some, that is too early. A number of countries argued for deferring the carriage ban until a later date due to uncertainty about the availability of compliant fuels in 2020, and concerns about the safety of the fuels on offer. They were advocating a phase of experience-building before not only the use of fuels above 0.50% sulphur is prohibited, but also carriage of such fuels on ships without approved equivalent arrangements such as scrubbers.

A majority of IMO member states, however, see the carriage ban as a crucial instrument in enabling more effective enforcement of the 2020 sulphur limit and hence reduce the risk that operators will be tempted to cheat and gain a competitive advantage.”

This is an important step in accepting the new regulations and doesn’t compromise the activities of the very services intended to make IMO 2020 work. The real issues we have been talking about for the past few weeks are still with us: when will the new fuels be available and where will they be bunkered? Non-compliance may not be the first thing on anyone’s mind but with an uncertain operational environment and high cost penalties for shipping not operating, it is imperative that the industry does not allow anyone an excuse to use non-compliant fuel. This is a regulatory change that has taken years to bring into operation. We should not sit back with less than 17 months to go and think everything will simply resolve itself.