Maritime industry seeks more clarity on enforcement of 0.5% sulfur limit
14th July 2021 11:55 GMT


The industry has coped remarkably well with the implementation of the International Maritime Organization's global sulfur mandate but variable approaches to the enforcement of the 0.5% sulfur limit continues to cause problems and uncertainty for the shipping and fuel oil supply industries, the International Bunker Industry Association said.


The main problem is a lack of consistency in how authorities decide whether a ship is in compliance with the 0.5% sulfur limit, and the associated ban on carrying fuel exceeding 0.5% sulfur for ships without abatement technology, IBIA said in a statement.

One particular concern is cases where ships have been required to debunker after reporting to authorities that they have received a test result from their own fuel oil testing program against ISO 8217 parameters, on the ship's own sample, indicating a sulfur content marginally above 0.5%, but with the 95% confidence interval.

Apart from causing delays and substantial financial costs, debunkering also carries an environmental cost through extra CO2 emissions, and represents safety and environmental risks.

There have also been reports of authorities obtaining and testing in-use samples from ships and treating it as a non-compliance on the basis of a single test result above 0.5% sulfur, but within the 95% confidence interval, for example 0.51% or 0.52% sulfur, IBIA added.

"Since the implementation of IMO 2020, problems involving sulfur limits, flash point, and sedimentation, are the three most common grounds upon which buyers submitted claims and had also requested for de-bunkering. This is costly to suppliers and demurrages arise from the extended laytime at the port of Singapore," a Singapore-based bunker supplier said July 13.

The bunker supplier also said that some buyers would also request for tank cleaning due to the off-specification sulfur limits, of which the cost is fully borne by the suppliers.

"It is important to consider that test results could vary slightly across inspection companies despite similar setup, instruments, and methods. Suppliers should consider catering for such allowances even though higher costs is involved when blenders further reduce sulfur content from the 0.5% limit, as de-bunkering would incur greater repercussions," a source from a Singapore-based oil inspection company said.

As samples from a receiving vessel could register a higher reading to slight contamination that could have occurred during the transfer of bunker fuels, a cargo blender from another inspection company cautioned that blended cargoes of the very low sulfur fuel oil bunkers should ideally be kept at least marginally below the 0.5% sulfur limit to cater for minor variations.


Issues to be addressed


IBIA brought the issue to the attention of the IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee with a statement at MEPC 75, urging Member Governments to apply the newly adopted amendments to MARPOL Annex VI regarding the verification procedure for a MARPOL Annex VI fuel oil sample.

In a bid to improve awareness and legal certainty, and highlighting the need for clarity and fairness, IBIA has also put in a paper, III 7/5/8, co-sponsored by Jamaica, to the 7th session of the sub-committee of the implementation of IMO instruments held this week.

The document seeks clarity on a number of issues including on what basis authorities can determine non-compliance with MARPOL sulfur limit.

"We believe it should be confirmed by testing a MARPOL sample in accordance with the regulation, and not on the basis of commercial samples such as a ship's own sample," IBIA said.

"In particular, get recognition of the fact the test result for a MARPOL "in use" sample and "on board" sample takes into account the inherent uncertainty of the sulfur test method and applies the 95% confidence principle to these samples," it said.

There is also a need for recognition that the 95% confidence principle applies to fuel oil used and carried for use by the ship and hence any fuel that has tested within 95% confidence of the 0.5% sulfur limit should not be debunkered. However, if the MARPOL delivered sample is above 0.5% sulfur (or 0.10% sulfur for ECA fuel) the fuel oil supplier would be considered as not having met the requirement and could face enforcement action, it added.

"In summary, our submission calls for the regulations and guidelines adopted by MEPC for consistent implementation of the 2020 sulfur limit to be better understood and implemented in a harmonized way by PSC [Port State Control] authorities around the world," it said.

Platts ,
14th July 2021 11:55 GMT