With two dates - 2020 and 2025 - to choose from for a global sulphur cap on bunker fuel, shipowning body International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has plumbed the former.
"ICS has concluded that, for better or worse, the global cap is very likely to be implemented in 2020, almost regardless of the effect that any lack of availability of compliant fuel may have on the cost of moving world trade by sea,” ICS Chairman, Masamichi Morooka said following a board meeting in London this week.
“While postponing the sulphur global cap until 2025 is still a possibility, the shipping and oil refining industries should not assume this will happen simply because they are unprepared," he added.
ICS said its position is "influenced by the fact that the European Union (EU) has already agreed, regardless of any decision by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to postpone the global cap, that a 0.50% sulphur limit will apply to international shipping within 200 miles of the coast of all EU Member States".
If the global cap is put back to 2025, a narrow corridor along the coast of North Africa would open up in which ships could continue to burn less expensive residual fuel with a sulphur content of 3.50%.
"ICS believes that the EU Member States will be unlikely to permit this and will therefore push hard at IMO for global implementation of the 0.50% requirement in 2020," ICS said.
ICS members have agreed that they will continue to work with the bunker refiners to help ensure that they will be ready, if necessary, to supply sufficient quantities of compliant fuel by 2020.
Under Annex VI of the IMO MARPOL Convention, a five-year delay to the global sulphur bunker cap could happen.
But it would depend on a fuel availability study, which the IMO is legally required to complete by the end of 2018.
At the meeting, the board reviewed implementation of the 0.10% sulphur cap in emission control areas in North America and north west Europe.
"It was agreed that ICS will continue its close liaison with governments and port state control authorities in order to ensure a harmonised approach to implementation and enforcement that avoids unfair treatment or market distortion.
"ICS is particularly concerned by reports that some port states are charging ships for the analysis of fuel samples," the organisation said.