I recently wrote about the concerns expressed by a marine engineer about the impact that low sulphur fuels will have on his shipboard colleagues (23 October). He had been speaking at an IMO Symposium on IMO 2020 and Alternative Fuels on 17 October and you can find all the presentations and audio recordings of the 1.5-day event on IMO’s website.
I am returning to that event now because of our report
on 29 October that Russia is considering postponing its adoption of the new fuel standard for its domestic shipping, which would also apply to the other four members of the Eurasian Economic Union.
Our story quoted an IMO spokeswoman saying that a non-complying country can be issued with a “corrective action plan” but that punitive measures are not included in that plan. Maybe not, but there are other mechanisms to encourage states to comply, as I discussed in a commentary on 5 September.
Those reports relate to compliance at a state-to-state level. Enforcement at the state-to-ship level is a different matter and IMO’s seminar heard how a number of flag states are addressing this issue.
One of them was Denmark, which has more experience than most in monitoring compliance for low-sulphur fuel since it is located entirely inside the North Sea and Baltic sulphur emission control areas (SECAs). As such, it has enforced the 0.1% sulphur limit that has applied in those SECAs since 2015 and two Danish representatives offered some advice to IMO’s symposium delegates based on the country’s experience.
In common with other EU member states, it takes fuel samples and sends them for laboratory testing but Clea Henrichsen, special advisor to Denmark’s Ministry of Environment and Food, admitted that if they are found to be non-compliant “we can’t punish the ship very quickly because … they have already sailed while the lab is looking at the sample.” In those cases, there is an EU-wide arrangement to alert other states “where we know the ship is going to another port in the EU.”
It also has ‘sniffers’ on the Great Belt bridge that links Denmark and Sweden constantly testing emissions from ships that pass beneath But for these to be effective, the wind must be blowing from the west. Since April this year they have been backed up by other sensors mounted on a drone – provided by the European Maritime Safety Agency – that “flies when it can”, Ms Henrichsen said.
However, “we cannot use the sniffer data to go to court,” she said during discussion. And when it does mount a court case, “we don’t have very high fines”; typically about DKr200,000 ($30,000), “which is nothing,” although “we are looking into that,” she added.
Denmark has already tightened up its response by passing a law earlier this year so that if fuel samples reveal sulphur content of more than 0.5% they are classed as being in gross non-compliance and the shipowner will have its name published on the Danish Maritime Authority’s (DMA’s) website. In addition, “we are starting to look at how to fine for non-compliance in international waters by using UNCLOS,” she said.
Despite these fuel testing and emissions monitoring difficulties, the SECAs have been effective. About 95% of ships are in compliance and that figure is rising, she said, reporting that air quality is also improving. She cited measurements by the Danish Centre of Environment and Energy and reported that, since the SECA came into effect in 2015, the sulphur content in the air around the country has halved.
Denmark is now keen to share its experience. Peter Ostenfeld, a senior advisor at the DMA, told the seminar that it has “benefited greatly from discussing among the SECA countries on very practical questions”, such as how to conduct fuel-related port state control inspections and how to share data. It has used this experience to prepare for 2020: since 2016, “we have been working very hard on preparing all partners – [including] the administration, industry and bunker suppliers to make sure we are ready for 1 January. I think we have done all we can,” he said.
Now it wants to share its experience with others. The DMA is working with the Sweden-based World Maritime University – whose students are likely to graduate into senior legislative positions around the world – to host ‘sulphur workshops’ for “authorities in areas that have not yet had these practical experiences,” he said. These are currently planned to take place in the Caribbean, east Africa and south east Asia.