Preparations intensify as global cut in sulphur in ship’s fuel oil looms

The “IMO 2020” requirements for ships to cut sulphur oxide emissions enter into effect in just over one month’s time.

The new requirement means that the global limit for sulphur in fuel oil used on board ships will be reduced to 0.50% m/m (mass by mass). Within certain designated emission control areas (ECAs), the limit will remain at 0.10%. The new limit will be mandatory, under a regulation in Annex VI of IMO’s MARPOL convention for the prevention of pollution from ships.

Both the International Maritime Organization IMO) and the shipping sector – as well as refineries and fuel (bunker) suppliers – have been preparing for the new limit.

For most ships this will mean a switch to new types of compliant fuel oils, so-called very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO), or marine gas/diesel oil. The VLSFO blends are new to the market.

At a roundtable industry meeting hosted by IMO at its London Headquarters this month views were exchanged on the general availability of fuel to meet the 0.50% limit.

It was felt supply would generally be available, with some exceptions. There was some indication that heavy fuel oils continued to be loaded. However, due to the proximity to the deadline, more ship operators and owners are beginning to gain experience of compliant fuels as bunker suppliers move their storage infrastructure and bunker barges to be 0.50% compliant fuel oil ready.

Consistent enforcement by port State control was once again recognised as essential to ensure a level playing field and to ensure that ships would not be disproportionately impacted.

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