The International Maritime Organization (IMO) Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) has agreed to move forward with a prohibition on the carriage of high-sulfur fuel oil for use on board ships, when that fuel oil is not compliant with a new low-sulfur limit which comes into force from 2020. The aim of the new limit is to reduce sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions from ships to improve air quality and protect the environment.
The 0.50% (5000 ppm) limit on sulfur in fuel oil on board ships (outside designated emission control areas or ECAs, where the limit is 0.10%, or 1000 ppm) will come into effect on 1 January 2020.
To help ensure consistent implementation of this regulation, IMO’s Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR), which met 5-9 February at IMO headquarters in London, agreed to draft amendments to the MARPOL Convention on the prevention of pollution from ships (MARPOL Annex VI) to prohibit the carriage of non-compliant fuel oil, such that the sulfur content of any fuel oil used or carried for use on board ships shall not exceed 0.50%.
The exception would be for ships fitted with an approved “equivalent arrangement” to meet the sulfur limit—such as an exhaust gas cleaning system (EGCS) or “scrubber”—which are already permitted under regulation 4.1 of MARPOL Annex VI.
These systems can be used with “heavy” high sulfur fuel oil as EGCS clean the emissions and therefore can be accepted as being at least as effective at meeting the required sulfur limit. For a ship without an approved equivalent arrangement the sulfur content of any fuel oil carried for use on board shall not exceed 0.50%.
Under regulation 3.2 of MARPOL Annex VI a ship undertaking trials for ship emission reduction and control technology research can be exempted by the Administration of a Party to Annex VI.
The Sub-Committee forwarded the proposed draft amendments to the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 72) meeting in April 2018, for urgent consideration. Once approved by MEPC 72, the draft amendments could be adopted at MEPC 73 (October 2018) and could enter into force on 1 March 2020 (just two months after the 0.50% limit comes into effect).
To assist with consistent implementation, the Sub-Committee agreed to develop a single set of Guidelines covering all relevant aspects and also agreed the outline of draft Guidelines for consistent implementation of regulation 14.1.3 of MARPOL Annex VI (the regulation on the 0.50% limit). The guidelines would cover:
Preparatory and transitional issues, relating to how ships can prepare for implementation, including relevant time schedules;
Impact on fuel and machinery systems resulting from new fuel blends or fuel types;
Verification issues and control mechanism and actions, including port State control and in-use fuel oil samples;
Fuel oil non-availability: guidance, information sharing and standard reporting format;
Safety implications relating to the option of blending fuels; and
Other useful guidance/information that assist Member States and stakeholders, including guidance addressing quality assurance and integrity of the supply chain.
Consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulfur limit for all ships will ensure a level playing field is maintained, with the result that the expected improvement of the environment and human health will be achieved. Sulfur oxides (SOx) are known to be harmful to human health, causing respiratory symptoms and lung disease. In the atmosphere, SOx can lead to acid rain, which can harm crops, forests and aquatic species, and contributes to the acidification of the oceans.
Black carbon. The Sub-Committee also agreed the Reporting protocol for voluntary measurement studies to collect Black Carbon data as well as most appropriate Black Carbon measurement methods for data collection.
The Sub-Committee encouraged Member States and international organizations to continue to collect Black Carbon data, using the agreed reporting protocol and the agreed measurement methods, and submit relevant data to the next session of the Sub-Committee.