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The global marine fuel sulphur limit required under MARPOL Annex VI will be reduced from 4.50% to 3.50% as of January 1, 2012.
Sulphur monitoring data compiled by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for 2010 showed that the average sulphur content for heavy fuel oil (HFO) tested in that year was 2.61%.
With a global HFO sulphur average of 2.61%, the upcoming global 3.50% fuel sulphur limit might look easy to achieve.
But the IMO sulphur monitoring data, which uses data from three global fuel testing agencies, also showed that nearly 15% of the HFO samples tested in 2010 were above 3.50% sulphur.
As reported on Bunkerworld, DNV Petroleum Services (DNVPS) has been warning that it will be a challenge in some bunker markets where supplies are dominated by HFOs with high sulphur content, and especially for the higher viscosity fuels.
HFOs with sulphur content exceeding 3.50% are particularly prevalent in the Middle East Gulf region, with recent trends showing an increase in supplies above that level in the region's key bunkering hub Fujairah. Moreover, close to 100% of HFOs supplied at several ports in the Middle East Gulf region exceed 3.50% sulphur, according DNVPS statistics.
There are also a few other ports around the world where over 60% of HFOs have tested above 3.50% sulphur in the past three months, including some ports in Italy. Several major ports have also had 10% to 30% of HFOs testing above 3.50% in recent months.
The change will therefore challenge suppliers in areas where HFO often exceeds 3.50% to change their sourcing practices to provide blends that meet the new sulphur limit.
Testing agencies have noted that many suppliers blend fuels very close to the upper sulphur limit when producing fuels for use in Emission Control Areas (ECAs) where the current limit is 1.00% sulphur.
There is speculation this might also happen as suppliers in areas with HFOs typically exceeding 3.50% sulphur blend to meet demand for fuels meeting the new global limit.
Appendix V of MARPOL Annex VI requires the Bunker Delivery Note (BDN) to specify the sulphur content of the delivered fuel.
There is a potential discrepancy between sulphur content stated on the BDN and tested values, which could become an issue if many fuels test above the new global 3.50% sulphur limit in 2012.
Taking this into account, the latest poll on Bunkerworld asks:
Do you expect a smooth transition to the global 3.50% sulphur limit?
owners and operators will take the easy way to do business.
Fuels with 3.5% sulfur will stay the same and even get bad.