One size fits all
2nd September 2011 09:55 GMT

We have all come across clothes with a 'One size fits all' label.  They are designed to suit everyone (at least adults) across a wide range of sizes. 

We also often hear that because the shipping industry is global, it needs uniform global regulations to ensure a level playing field and reduce complexity.  By ensuring shipping is regulated via the International Maritime Organization (IMO), it is hoped a 'One size fits all' framework can be created.

Nice idea, but in practice 'One size fits all' garments may be OK for some, but a poor fit for others.  The same, it seems, can be said for shipping regulations painstakingly worked out at the IMO.

Take the revision of MARPOL Annex VI regulations with regards to controlling shipping's sulphur emissions.  INTERTANKO got the ball rolling with their 'all distillate' proposal - put forward as the ultimate 'One size fits all' solution.  It would prescribe the same sulphur limit for fuels used by all oceangoing ships across the globe.

You could compare the INTERTANKO idea with mittens, which are generally an easy fit while serving the purpose of keeping your hands warm.  But many do not like mittens, preferring the improved dexterity offered by gloves.  And that's what we got with the revised MARPOL Annex VI. 

As a rule of thumb, ships are bound by specific sulphur emissions limits - but instead of prescribing just one limit and just one way of meeting it, we got another four 'fingers'.  The index finger pointed to specific sulphur limits for marine fuels.  The long finger gave the option of meeting emission limits with any technology proven to achieve equivalent emission reductions.  The ring finger gave us a global sulphur limit, and the little finger gave us more stringent sulphur limits in specially designated emission control areas (ECAs).

There are some other nuances too, like the different timings for reductions in ECA and global sulphur limits - but now I'm getting too many fingers in this glove so let's just say the ring finger and the little finger come with dates; 2012 for the global sulphur limit to fall to 3.50% and a 0.50% limit no later than 2025, and 2015 for the ECA sulphur limit to fall to 0.10% from the 1.00% sulphur limit that came into force in July 2010.

So far so good.  We have 'working gloves' to reduce sulphur emissions from global shipping. 

But the working gloves I picked up in a DIY shop just recently, bearing a 'One size fits all' label, are not a good fit - they are much too big for me.  (They were probably men's gloves, but there were no women-specific working gloves available)

The parallel to sulphur regulations for shipping continues. Much of the shipping industry may find the IMO's sulphur regulations a bit of a straitjacket, but for some local regulators they are apparently not tight enough (like my working gloves). 

Under MARPOL Annex VI, ECAs will bring in stricter sulphur limits long before global sulphur limits are reduced to an extent that will make a real difference to overall emissions.  As there is a strong focus on reducing harmful emissions close to populations, this makes sense.

But in the European Union (EU) and in California, they have customised the IMO's 'working gloves' to satisfy local air quality targets.

Under Directive 1999/32/EC and the later amendment 2005/33/EC, also known as the EU Sulphur Directive, ships calling at EU ports are required, since the start of 2010, to use fuels with sulphur content not exceeding 0.1%. 

The EU regulations also ban the sale and use of marine gas oil (MGO) with sulphur content exceeding 0.1% in EU member states and waters.

Moreover, passenger vessels operating between EU ports have to use fuel not exceeding 1.5% sulphur, in line with what the sulphur limits were when ECAs were first introduced.

In July this year, the European Commission published proposed changes to the Sulphur Directive that it said would harmonise EU regulations with the 2008 revision of MARPOL Annex VI.  But differences remain.

There will be no change to the in-port 0.1% sulphur limit, which precedes the 2015 standard for ECAs.  The intention is also to bring back an 'ECA standard' for passenger ships throughout the EU from 2020, but till then it will stay at 1.50%.

Also unique to the EU (at least so far) is the plan to ban both the use and sale of marine fuels with sulphur content exceeding 3.5% in the territory.  Although this aligns with the 2012 global fuel sulphur limit, MARPOL Annex VI does not actually ban the use of higher sulphur fuels as long as measures are taken to ensure sulphur emissions are reduced.  According to several scrubbers manufacturers, their technologies would be able to meet even a 0.10% sulphur standard when operating on a heavy fuel oil with up to 5% sulphur content.

So the EU 'working glove' has a few extra fingers, you could say - while in California, they have cut off the long finger (the one that allows for abatement technology) while also adding a few more digits.

On July 1, 2009 the California Air Resources Board (ARB) introduced the Ocean-Going Vessel (OGV) fuel regulation that requires vessels to use either MGO with maximum 1.5% sulphur, or marine diesel oil (MDO) with maximum 0.5% sulphur within 24 nautical miles (nm) off California's coastline.

This piece of legislation has been contested several times, and it still is - mainly with regards to California's authority to regulate ships more than three nm off the coastline. 

Originally, the ARB regulation did allow for abatement technology to be used, but after the first legal battles it became a 'fuel rule' and not an emissions standard to avoid federal limitations on ARB's jurisdiction.

The Californian OGV fuel regulation came into existence because ARB could not wait for a possible North American ECA to take measures to improve air quality in the region.  Now, of course, the ECA is a reality and will require ships to reduce sulphur emissions within 200 nm of the coastline - long before they arrive at the Californian 24 nm zone.

Under the ARB regulation, the sulphur limit for both MGO and MDO was due to fall to 0.1% from the start of 2012, but under changes endorsed in June this year, ARB has delayed the 0.1% limit, or 'Phase 2' of the OGV fuel regulation, to 2014.  

ARB has said delaying 'Phase 2' was necessary to "better align" its regulation with the requirements of the North American ECA.  As part of that alignment, ARB also introduced a second change to the fuel sulphur rule by reducing the MGO sulphur limit from the current 1.5% to 1.0% from August 1, 2012.

But two key points remain different, which makes you wonder if ARB is only paying lip-service to the idea that it is aligning its OGV regulation with MARPOL Annex VI.

Firstly, it fails to conform with the 2015 ECA implementation date for a 0.10% sulphur limit by wanting it a year earlier - thereby shortening the little finger in the IMO 'working glove'.

Secondly, it continues to dictate the use of distillate fuels, so the long finger that allows for abatement technology is still missing. 

Not only that - it is perfectly conceivable that a ship approaching California would be using a low sulphur fuel oil to meet the 1.00% sulphur limit from August 2012 and up until 2015.  But ARB would require the ship to switch to either MGO - which typically has a sulphur content well below 1.00%, or use an MDO with no more than 0.50% sulphur for the final leg of their journey to ports in California. 

This all seems quite arbitrary, but at least part of the explanation is that local needs require a 'tighter fit' than that provided by the IMO's ECA regulation.  The deferral of 'Phase 2' is only two years because 2014 is a major threshold for California to meet its own mandated air quality goals set out in their State Implementation Plan (SIP).

It is harder to see the a justification for the mandated distillate fuel requirements. 

There has never been a satisfying explanation as to why ARB put a lower sulphur limit on MDO than MGO - which seems particularly strange because MGO typically is a lower sulphur fuel than MDO. 

MGO is a pure distillate and its sulphur content is often 0.2% or lower; it would be very unusual to find an MGO with a sulphur content approaching the current 1.5% limit.  It would be more likely to find MDO up to 1.5% sulphur.  Perhaps this curious differentiation between MGO and MDO sulphur content in ARBs regulation is a clever way of ensuring that OGVs never burn fuel with sulphur above 0.50% in Californian waters.

So what is the conclusion from all of this?  Well, the IMO may provide a global regulatory framework, sometimes even with some room for local variations, like the ECAs in MARPOL Annex VI.  Straitjackets can also be adjusted by tightening straps here and there.  But sometimes local needs call for customisation that goes beyond what the IMO's frameworks can provide.  Like it or not, the IMO's global quilt will often have some patchwork elements.


Unni Einemo,
2nd September 2011 09:55 GMT

Comments on this Blog
Heinz Otto
6th October 2011
Thanks, Unni Einemo,
this was the complete information about the shipping-family and how they will meet the mitigation of climatechange-facts. But where is the promised MEPC-CO2-emission-reducing at all, you can find here:
http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2011/smsn/igo/098.pdf - as a timetable for measurement-instruments!!! Not for really reductions; And: reducing the sulphur is only one of the facts, we have to work on. Be aware, that we have to do more, to meet the "max2°-goal worldwide, you can find here:
http://www.pik-potsdam.de/research/publications/pikreports/.files/english_short_pr116 .
There is one hope, to meet the goal: use the wind again and start now with the first bulkers, powered by modern square-sail-systems, like the PINTARIG. Check www.windships.de and you find more to this. From www.symaltesefalcon.com via www.b9shipping.com to www.modern-merchant-sailing-vessel.com.
All the best to you from Heinz Otto

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