In six months we will could still be as uncertain about the quality of low sulphur fuel and the availability of it at worldwide bunkers as we are now. During the past few months we have continued to discuss these matters because we feel that non-compliance will only be an option for some operators and owners if these vital parts of the 2020 equation are not resolved. In a recent article by the well written and defining Hellenic Shipping News, they printed a list of what some people regard as the uncertainties surrounding the global sulphur cap:

  • Will 2020 be enforced?
  • Will High Sulphur Fuel Oil (HSFO) be available? There is no question it will be in surplus and available at rock bottom prices. However, the supply chain may have to be re-started if demand drops in 2020 and does not resume for a year or two.
  • Should we choose alternative fuels?
  • Do scrubbers work and can they really be installed in a retro-fit situation?
  • How long does a retro-fit take?
  • Aren’t scrubbers banned in open loop mode in ports in Europe and don’t they simply transfer pollution from air to sea

We have a lot of time for articles such as these and the knowledgeable media that print them. They provide us with the questions we are all asking and we have been doing this for months. Yet the silence makes us think there is still confusion at high levels in the shipping world. In reality it is down to the ship owners and operators to ensure they have the full facts before we reach that six month period. If you are not already fitting or ordering a scrubber(s) then it won’t just happen in a month and remember, they are costly and require expert installation. But this is just one facet of the problem: when will the low sulphur fuel be available and will you be able to access the bunkers? We were intrigued to read in the Hellenic Shipping News feature that owners and operators are concerned about the following:

  • How are scrubbers installed in a retro-fit situation? Ship operators could talk to some of the specialist installer companies and ask to see case studies. They could also talk to some of the RORO companies in Europe. What were their main problems? Are they still a risk?
  • When do scrubbers become cost effective? Is there an engine size or fuel consumption minimum to make the payback period for an installation cost effective? If the payback is short and there are no other downsides, then there is a real incentive to fit scrubbers.
  • Ethically, are scrubbers likely to be better than a fuel switch? Professor Ralf Zimmermann, Full Professor of analytical chemistry at the University of Rostock has suggested that, at worst, both solutions have similar health effects in highly populated ports. At best, scrubbers may result in slightly less harmful emissions than using 0.10%S distillate.
  • What are the real implications of the fuel compliance route? Is it simply using gas oil at 0.10%S for a few bunkerings. Ship owners should talk to Danny Evans of AW Shipmanagement, whose company has done the changeover for its ECA fleet. It has secured its long-term fuel supply, but it has also experienced non-compliance detentions. It is for ship owners important to examine real case studies and the facts. The fuel switch option may not be as simple as we think.

We agree with much of what this article said and the idea that misinformation and poor information can lead to disastrous financial and operational conclusions in this field is not hard to accept. We are still calling for more information and as operators start gearing up for tank cleaning and searching for bunkering, there needs to be more done to provide the world’s shipping with more credible and dependable information on the implementation of IMO 2020.

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