Greek shipowners prepare for 2020 but question scrubber use

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche
ShipInsight

22 October 2018


In an announcement last week ahead of the impending MEPC73 meeting in London, the Union of Greek Shipowners (UGS) said it remains firmly committed to the successful transition to the 0.5% global sulphur cap but was scathing about allowing the use of scrubbers.

The UGS said that although it respected the dates were set, it fully supports the effective implementation and enforcement of the new regulation through the establishment of a UN IMO institutionalised data collection, analysis and review stage, as the minimum safeguard, given the safety and operational issues already identified. This is in line with the traditional role of the UN IMO and the need to give priority to the protection of life at sea and the protection of the environment, a principle deeply embedded in the maritime code of values of the Greek shipping community.

“We cannot turn a blind eye to the uncertainties regarding the availability and supply of MARPOL compliant fuels which are also SOLAS compliant, safe, fit-for-purpose and available worldwide, particularly in the bulk/tramp sector. The option of achieving compliance through continued combustion of high-sulphur fuels with installed scrubbers, which in any case has questionable net environmental benefit, is the exception to the rule, especially in this sector due to its fundamental operational characteristics”, the President of the UGS, Theodore Veniamis stated.

The announcement also said that bulk/tramp shipping which represents more than 83% of the world’s seaborne trade in cargo ton-miles and in which Greek shipping is primarily involved does not allow for contractual arrangements to be made with refineries and bunkering facilities at specific ports. Moreover, a lack of international standardisation – ISO standards for the new type of compliant fuel will not be ready for January 1st 2020 – only adds to the complexity and compounds the problems. Post 2020, ships involved in bulk/tramp shipping will, in all likelihood, have to bunker untested and diverse fuel blends from different sources around the world, which are especially problematic, as the surge of fuel contamination instances has already indicated.

The stakeholders of the bunker supply chain have recognised the potential safety and operational issues related to the supply and use of 0.5% maximum sulphur fuels and are proposing the issuance of extensive guidance for ship operators and crews. However, the responsibility of the marine bunker supply chain cannot be shifted onto ship operators and crews. Ship operators and crews should not be held disproportionately responsible for the safety and environmental consequences of the provision of unsafe or unsuitable fuels.

While welcoming IMO guidance, the UGS said it is not enough; it needs to be coupled with an institutionalised process which will ensure the proper management of the 2020 sulphur cap issues, taking into account all related parameters, the breadth and width of which are yet unknown. The proposal made to the forthcoming meeting 0f MEPC73 by flag states representing more than 46% of the world’s shipping capacity along with international shipping associations for the introduction of an Experience-Building Phase contributes to this aim. “The ultimate aim should be that the industry in its totality uses safe and suitable, low-sulphur marine fuels. The UN IMO should not allow a trade-off between formal compliance and the safety of ships, crews and protection of the environment”, Veniamis concluded.