Who will be the 2020 sulphur cheats?

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

25 January 2018


At the beginning of this week a number of shipping industry bodies and environmental NGOs issued a joint statement calling for a ban on non-compliant fuels in 2020 when the 0.5% global sulphur cap comes into effect. The call was later supported by Maersk and other shipping bodies. The statement notes that the 2020 sulphur cap will provide substantial environmental and human health benefits but on the downside it will significantly increase ships’ operating costs and will present major challenges to governments that must ensure consistent enforcement across the globe. Their argument is that unless a ship is using an approved equivalent compliance method, there should be no reason for it to be carrying non-compliant fuels for combustion on board. To secure the intended environmental and health benefits, the parties to the statement say it is of utmost importance that enforcement of this standard is efficient and robust globally. Any failure by governments to ensure consistent implementation and enforcement could also lead to serious market distortion and unfair competition. For the environmental organisations involved, this is an understandable position to take but, the industry bodies which are BIMCO, Cruise Lines International Association, International Chamber of Shipping, International Parcel Tankers’ Association, INTERTANKO and World Shipping Council are constantly saying that they speak for the vast majority of shipowners around the globe. If they do indeed speak for shipping generally, it begs the question who will be the cheats that make a ban on non-compliant fuels necessary? It is well known that there are some unscrupulous ship operators around the globe. However, since such operators are less likely to be classed with the leading societies if at all, could well be uninsured and are most probably high on the targeting lists of PSC regimes, then they will almost never be competing for business with the member companies of the shipping bodies making the call. If on the other hand, the parties involved fear that the cheats will come from within their own ranks, then surely they are not the quality organisations they claim to be. Perhaps they should apply some quality standards to their membership criteria before trying to claim the moral high ground. As for a complete ban on the carriage of non-compliant fuels, that is arguably a matter for port and flag states to agree. Some may prefer that domestic and local traffic is not forced to pay higher prices for fuels putting goods out of the reach of less affluent populations.