Head in sand attitude could be storing up trouble

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

19 July 2017


At MEPC 71, the IMO succumbed to the inevitable in postponing the full implementation of the 2004 Ballast Water Convention having been warned on numerous occasions that certain practicalities had not been fully considered. However, when it came to discussing the 2020 sulphur gap, the IMO was clearly not in the mood to make further concessions. Unlike, the ballast convention where the shipping community considered that technical matters still needed to be resolved, the technology for meeting the 2020 sulphur cap is already proven. The industry is not exactly enamoured with the potential cost of meeting the cap although it probably recognises that there is no alternative. However, the industry and others outside are questioning the presumptions behind the 2020 date that sufficient fuel will be available and have suggested that monitoring needs to be continued upto the deadline. That MEPC 71 decided against this very practical proposal is setting the organisation and indeed the industry itself up for a very public own goal if conditions do indeed prove not to allow timely implementation of the 2020 cap. Quite obviously the ability to meet the cap will depend upon sufficient fuel being available. While the CE Delft report says it will be, there is no obligation on refiners to make it so. Most ships are limited to a choice of residual or distillate fuels and cannot make use of LNG so that option should not be considered as being available. There are many calls on refiners beyond marine, so who is to say that they will be able to deliver low sulphur HFO in quantity or that they can produce four to five times as much distillate as they do now. Surely monitoring the situation is a prudent approach that would allow the industry and the IMO to publicise the short comings of refiners at an early stage if it seems that the worst fears will be realised. The IMO’s ostrich-like behaviour may have been approved by the majority of delegates at MEPC 71 but the damage to its image could be immense if at, or just before, the final deadline it is forced to postpone or make last minute transitional arrangements. There is still time to reverse the decision but it must be done soon. One thing is sure and that is that if the CE Delft report assumptions prove false, those nations whose delegates have put so much faith in it will doubtless not be prepared to penalise their own ships if they cannot secure supplies of complaint fuel.