The regulation around fuels and lubricants

Malcolm Latarche

Malcolm Latarche · 12 May 2017


The exception to this is the limit that has existed in SOLAS for some time that marine fuels should have a minimum flashpoint of 60°C. There are related aspects in SOLAS concerning the fuel system as might be expected.

Fuel quality is always a case of caveat emptor but there are ISO standards which, so long as they are stipulated as part of the purchase contract, will afford the shipowner a degree of protection against damage caused to the engine or the quality of the fuel provided.

On an international level, the IMO deals with various aspects of fuel in both the MARPOL and SOLAS Conventions as well as the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage 2001 – ordinarily referred to as the Bunker Convention and in effect from 2008.

Under the Bunker Convention ships over 1,000gt registered in a state that has ratified the convention must carry a certificate certifying that the ship has insurance or other financial security to cover the liability of the owner for pollution damage. The convention defines owner in such a way as to include others such as managers, bareboat charterers, operators and beneficial owners. The US is not a party to the convention but under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, ships above 300gt operating in US waters are obliged to be covered by insurance and will be issued a Certificate of Financial Responsibility (COFR) to prove the fact.

Individual nations, states in the US and regional bodies are permitted to make regulations concerning fuels used within their jurisdiction with the EU’s ban on fuels with sulphur levels above 0.1% being used in ports being a prime example. One current area of concern is the Arctic where there are moves in numerous bodies including the IMO and the EU to ban the use of HFO.

Preventing pollution

The financial liability for accidental pollution is more than adequately covered by the Bunker Convention and national legislation such as OPA 90. No ship operator plans to pollute by dumping bunkers at sea and pollution by bunker fuel has generally been a result of accidental damage to the ship compounded by location of fuel storage tanks.

Once it was common for fuel to be stored in the double bottom spaces but this is a vulnerability that has been addressed. Regulation of fuel systems on board ships now begins with the design stages and the size and location of fuel tanks. A regulation on oil fuel tank protection was adopted in 2004 and entered into force on 1 January 2007.
The regulation applies to all ships delivered on or after 1 August 2010 with a total oil fuel capacity of 600m3 and above. It includes requirements for the protected location of the fuel tanks and performance standards for accidental oil fuel outflow. A maximum capacity limit of 2,500m3 per oil fuel tank is included in the regulation, and flag states are obliged to consider general safety aspects, including the need for maintenance and inspection of wing and double-bottom tanks or spaces, when approving the design and construction of ships in accordance with the regulation.

Pollution is not only a result of fuel leakage in to the sea but also is an inevitable result of the combustion process. All fuels containing hydrocarbons, whether they are mineral oil based or from any other source, will produce carbon dioxide (CO2).

Although cited by environmentalists as the root cause of climate change, CO2 is not generally considered as a pollutant and is an essential element in growth of all forms of vegetation around the globe. As a major user of oil fuels the shipping industry has been demonised by environmentalists although in truth the industry produces only around 4% of all man-made CO2 which in turn accounts for only around 6% of all sources of the gas. So shipping’s contribution is just 0.24% of all CO2 and since CO2 in total only accounts for 0.04% of the atmosphere it means that shipping’s contribution is 0.96 ppm. Put another way if the atmosphere was represented by the entire 320 million population of the US, shipping’s CO2 contribution would be the equivalent of just 300 persons.

As things stand the only control of CO2 from ships is that caused as a result of complying with the IMO’s Energy Efficiency Design Index regulations but under Marpol Annex VI the NOx and SOx levels in engine exhaust emissions are strictly controlled with limits reducing over time according to a rolling programme.

It is generally accepted that NOx levels can be controlled by use of in-engine technologies and that LNG produces lower NOx levels than fuel oils. SOx level, on the other hand, is purely a function of the sulphur content of the fuel being used. In May 2005 when MARPOL Annex VI came in to effect, the global limit on allowable sulphur content in fuel was set at 4.5% reducing to 3.5% from 2012. Lower levels apply in emission control areas with the lowest level of 0.1% having been in force from the beginning of 2015.

A new global level of 0.5% is set to come into effect in 2020 following a decision taken at the MEPC in 2016. A later date of 2025 was allowed for in MARPOL dependent upon a review into fuel availability. The review was allowed to be completed in 2018 but was finished early. It has to be said that the findings of the review were not universally accepted and most industry observers are of the opinion that the decision to opt for 2020 was political rather than based on properly researched fact.

At the time when the sulphur level rules were being formulated, scrubbing technology was at an embryonic stage and, in the view of many, unlikely to be an economic alternative to low sulphur fuels. This has since been proven to be a false assumption and scrubber technology is now an accepted means of meeting SOx emission rules. Even though the recent drop in fuel prices has extended the payback period for scrubber installations they are still seen as attractive propositions for many operators.

The IMO has accepted that because ships trade internationally there may be occasions when fuel with the required sulphur content for trading in ECAs or even globally may not be available. MARPOL Annex VI regulation 18.2 provides for such a situation and allows whatever fuel available to be used so long as the ship owner has made efforts to attempt to obtain the required fuel oil.

As a consequence of the initial belief that no SOx reduction technology would be available and therefore no emission measurement necessary, the control system decided upon to prove compliance revolved around the declared sulphur content being shown on bunker delivery notes. The notes are backed up by samples to be used only for official investigations into alleged breaches of the SOx regulations. The IMO has published guidelines for the sampling
procedure which would be familiar to most ships where there is a practice of fuel sampling laid down for quality purposes.

The format of bunkering delivery notes is laid down in Annex VI and most official bodies will want to see the documents in the accepted format. Bunker suppliers in states that are party to Annex VI are required to provide the documents in the accepted format but in states that are not there is no such requirement.

It is usual for ship owners, when ordering bunkers, to at least insert clauses to the effect that the fuel oil supply process is to be in accordance with the requirements of Annex VI and with specified maximum sulphur content appropriate to the particular intended future area of operation. MARPOL Annex VI Regulation 18.5 requires the following items, as a minimum, to be detailed on a Bunker Delivery Note

  • Name and IMO Number of receiving ship
  • Port
  • Date of commencement of delivery
  • Name, address and telephone number of marine fuel oil supplier
  • Product name
  • Quantity in metric tonnes
  • Density at 15˚C (kg/m3)
  • Sulphur content (% m/m)
  • A declaration signed and certified by the fuel oil supplier’s representative that the fuel oil supplied is in conformity with the applicable paragraph of regulation 14.1 or 14.4 and regulation 18.3 of Annex VI.
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