2020 intentions and threats may not be enough

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

17 November 2017

Once again the IMO has talked tough on the 2020 sulphur cap but veiled threats and good intentions could be severely tested once the big day rolls around.

Speaking at a conference for the refining and petrochemical industry in Athens, Greece (13-15 November), IMO’s Edmund Hughes reminded delegates that the 2020 global sulphur limit will enter into force on 1 January 2020, without any delay and said consistent implementation is the only option when it comes to the 0.50% limit on sulphur in fuel oil.

Hughes reminded delegates of the commercial imperative for ships to be compliant saying “In addition to possible detention - which would make the ship a high risk for future port state inspection decisions - a non-compliant ship could be considered as being unseaworthy”, so affecting their charter party and also indemnity in the event of an insurance claim”. He also said that the bunker industry must ensure availability of fuels including high-sulphur fuels for ships fitted with scrubbers.

However, when discussions in Athens centred on the availability of suitable fuels and the IMO’s assertion that sufficient quantities would be available, Hughes is reported as saying "if this assumption is not accurate, refineries will need to expand the capacity of their sulphur plants to meet the 2020 demand”. Several of the delegates questioned if this would actually be the case.

Thus the IMO’s voice has been added to similar sound bytes from other quarters demanding that no leeway must be given. The IMO will be returning to the matter of ensuring consistent implementation at PPR5 in February 2018 and during an intersessional working group to be held later in 2018.

The IMO really has no option but to talk tough given the fiasco around the ballast treatment issue, but expecting other industries to jump to the IMO’s command is not a guarantee that it will happen. If it does not, then the world of commerce will not permit ships that cannot meet the demands of the IMO’s regulations to be merely prevented from operating.

As the IMO has also said, ‘Compliance, enforcement and monitoring will be the remit and responsibility of both flag states and port states’. These will not stand idly by and allow assets to be unemployable just because some operators have managed to corner all supplies of complaint fuels.

Surely it would be better for the IMO to take the pragmatic approach and agree to continue to monitor the situation and be willing to act accordingly as the day of destiny draws closer, rather than end up embarrassed if ships have no alternative but to ignore the regulation?

The IMO itself does not have the power to enforce the regulation and it is highly unlikely that nation states will hand over that power to the IMO anytime soon.

Image courtesy of the IMO.