MSC discusses post-2020 fuel safety ahead of UKCS seminar

Paul Gunton
Paul Gunton

11 June 2019

Safety aspects of handling low-sulphur fuel have been a topic under discussion at the 101st meeting of IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 101), which began last Monday (4 June) and is due to finish on Friday (14 June).

The topic was prompted by MSC 100 in December 2018, which “acknowledged that urgent actions are required to address the safety implications associated with the use of low-sulphur fuel oil,” recalled the preamble to a submission by IACS to this month’s meeting. Its paper, MSC 101/8, can be read via IMODOCS, where a simple registration process gives access to many of the papers under discussion, and to all papers once the meeting has finished.

Its paper acknowledges another submission (MSC 101/8/2) to the meeting by four international organisations – the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), Intertanko, Intercargo and the International Parcel Tankers Association (IPTA). Their submission pointed out that fuel oil safety problems “are in fact endemic” and not just related to low-sulphur fuels. As an example, they referred to problems from HFO bunkered in Houston in March 2018 that led to fuel pump sticking, sludging of separators, corroded fuel pumps and filter clogging.

As ShipInsight reported last November, a subsequent investigation by CIMAC did not find a conclusive reason for the problems.

Their paper’s recommendations focus on whether fuel suppliers have provided on-spec bunkers, while the IACS document includes concerns that have often been mentioned elsewhere relating to 0.50% sulphur fuel, such as compatibility and viscosity variations, but makes a number of proposals to address them. Among them, it suggests that IMO should consider establishing procedures “for the proper specification … in relation to the purchase of fuel oil suitable for an individual ship” along with “procedures for identification of actual safety concerns with individual fuel batches.”

The topic was discussed in MSC 101’s plenary session last Wednesday (6 June) and a working group was established to look at the various submissions and consider possible amendments to SOLAS. More immediately, it was tasked to “develop urgent guidance to enhance the safety of ships relating to the use of fuel oil [and] develop an action plan to progress the work.” It is due to report back to the plenary session on Thursday or Friday of this week ( 13 or 14 June).

Its work is timely. Just a few days after MSC closes, the UK Chamber of Shipping (UKCS) will be holding a half-day seminar on 18 June titled ‘Sulphur 2020 countdown: What you need to know’. It is being organised jointly with the International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA). ShipInsight is also supporting the event and will be reporting on its discussions.

“The new regulation will change the face of the shipping industry – it will have a positive impact on the environment and on air quality, but could have a disruptive effect on operations if shipowners do not prepare effectively,” the UKCS said in its pre-event publicity for the seminar. It also believes that the regulation “could be highly disruptive without the right guidance.”

Echoing the concerns expressed during MSC 1010, the shipowners association has said that mitigating “any safety issues related to switching to low-sulphur fuel” should be one of four priorities that it believes should be addressed before the sulphur cap comes into force on 1 January. Its other priorities that should be tackled in the same timescale include establishing how the regulation will be consistently enforced globally and how shipowners can report compliance issues to competent authorities. It is also concerned that education should be provided on how new compliant fuel should be handled.

Consistent implementation of the new sulphur regulations was also a feature of discussion at the 74th meeting of IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee in May. The meeting adopted a comprehensive set of guidance and guidelines to support that goal and approved related amendments to Marpol Annex VI, which addresses air pollution.

Those guidelines cover some of the topics that will be highlighted at the UKCS/IBIA seminar. For example, they include sections on the impact on fuel and machinery systems resulting from new fuel blends or fuel types, verification issues and a control mechanism and a standard reporting format for fuel oil non-availability. It also looks at possible safety implications relating to fuel oils that meet the 0.50% sulphur limit.

In a summary of MEPC 74’s decisions on this topic, IMO’s secretariat also referred to exhaust gas cleaning systems, or scrubbers, and noted that one of MEPC’s sub-committees, the Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR), is undertaking a review of IMO’s 2015 Guidelines on Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems, which include washwater discharge standards.

MEPC 74 instructed IMO’s secretariat to liaise with the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection, which is a body that advises the United Nations system on scientific aspects of marine environmental protection, with a view to it establishing a task team to assess the available evidence relating to the environmental impact of discharges of exhaust gas cleaning system effluent. If that can be arranged, it is hoped that its findings will be reported to PPR 7 in February 2020.

This is also likely to be a topic during the UKCS/IBIA seminar, which includes two papers and a discussion panel looking at scrubber-related questions.

In its pre-seminar notes, UKCS was careful not to express a view for or against scrubbers. “At the end the day, choosing to run on compliant fuel or fit scrubbers is a commercial decision,” it said. Its role, as reflected in the seminar, is “to provide you with advice and clarity on these complex issues.”