States not ready for 2020 report says

Malcolm Latarche

Malcolm Latarche · 19 December 2019


An article appearing on the Bloomberg website suggests key nations are not ready to implement the IMO 2020 sulphur cap rules due to come into force in less than two weeks’ time.

According to the report, many nations are not signed up to MARPOL Annex VI and even among the nations that back the rules, some important ones don’t look likely to start with an aggressive implementation. South Africa doesn’t have the domestic laws in place to enforce the rules. The United Arab Emirates, home to the biggest vessel-refuelling centre in the Middle East, intends to avoid a draconian start to enforcement.


“It will be devastating if not everyone complies,” said Clea Henrichsen, a special adviser at the Ministry of Environment and Food for Denmark, where sulphur content in the air more than halved in two years after introducing an emissions cap. “It’s awful now in terms of air pollution around the world.”

Bloomberg reports that for its part, the IMO says that any country that ratified the rules made a commitment to implement them from 1 January.

While the IMO sets the regulations, it’s down to individual states to put them into practice, inspecting vessels and having a legal framework in place to punish those that aren’t compliant. But what that will look like in reality is still unclear in several locations. “Most states are keeping their cards really close to their chest,” Bloomberg reports Alessio Sbraga, a partner in the shipping team at Holman Fenwick Willan LLP in London as saying. “There’s a general lack of transparency. That’s concerning because, in the first place, robust and consistent enforcement will be important for a level playing field.”

South Africa has agreed along with 95 other IMO member states to enforce the rules in its waters. But legislation to make that possible won’t be ready in time. “That bill is not going to see the light of day until sometime next year,” said Edmund Greiner, a maritime lawyer for Shepstone & Wylie’s Cape Town office, who advises the South African Maritime Safety Authority on issues relating to marine pollution. “Without that bill coming into force of law as an act of parliament, we can’t do anything in South Africa to enforce the provisions.”

Jamaica doesn’t have the domestic laws in place either. The suggested legislation has been before parliament for some time but is yet to be passed, said a spokeswoman for the national Maritime Authority. It is not alone: fewer than half of the 20 member states of the Caribbean Memorandum of Understanding have laws to enforce IMO 2020, according to the organisation’s Secretary General Jodi Barrow.

Other countries are simply heeding calls from the shipping industry to take a pragmatic stance on enforcement, at least to start with. The United Arab Emirates, for example, is anticipating that it won’t begin by penalising non-compliant ships, according to the head of the nation’s Federal Transport Authority. That’s a potentially vital stance given the country is home to the port of Fujairah, which provides fuel for thousands of ships each year as they come and go from the Persian Gulf.

As well as questions about how the regulations will be enforced, there are also significant differences in terms of fines and penalties that companies can expect to pay if they breach the rules, according to Carol Holness, a Durban-based transport lawyer for Norton Rose Fulbright LLP who has looked into the largest maximum fines in countries’ legislation.

Even if all the countries that have ratified the rules do their best to enforce them, though, some regions around the world will have to play catch up. Many nations have years of experience enforcing sulphur caps, but around 100 haven’t signed up to the IMO agreement yet. These countries include Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Israel, Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan and Egypt, according to the latest IMO data available. The Suez Canal, a trade artery between Europe and Asia, passes through the latter country.

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