Interview: IMO sees ‘by far’ majority of ships complying with 2020 sulfur cap

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is expecting “by far” the majority of the world’s fleet to comply with its tighter sulfur emission standards in 2020, according to the UN body’s head of air pollution and energy efficiency.

The IMO’s global sulfur limit for marine fuels is set to drop from 3.5% to 0.5% at the start of 2020, forcing most shipowners to switch from burning high sulfur fuel oil to cleaner, more expensive alternatives. While some have raised the concern that some shipping companies may flout the new rules in the hope that their enforcement will be lax, the inconvenience of doing so may prevent this from being widespread, the IMO’s Edmund Hughes told S&P Global Platts in an interview Tuesday.

“The expectation is that by far the majority will be using compliant fuel,” he said. “If you’re not doing that, you’re creating bureaucratic barriers for yourself.”

Hughes noted out that 96% of the global fleet by tonnage is registered to a flag state that has signed up to MARPOL Annex VI — the IMO document setting out its rules on air pollution from shipping — and said ships failing to comply could lose their international certification, preventing them from operating as a commercial trading vessel.

And next month, a key committee of the IMO is expected to adopt a ban on the carriage of non-compliant fuels from March 2020, empowering port states, as well as the flag state where a vessel is registered, to help with the effort of investigating whether ships are burning compliant fuel in international waters.

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