Annex VI is not the only aspect of MARPOL applying to bunkering procedures. Bunkering connections must be fitted with save-alls to retain any spills during bunker loadings and it is good practice to take further precautions as well. Most safe management systems required to comply with the ISM Code would recognise bunkering as a key shipboard operation, a potential emergency situation and a potential threat to the environment.
It would therefore be expected that a written procedure is in place and pollution control materials ready to hand and scuppers plugged. Annex VI also includes a requirement for the changeover process from standard to low sulphur fuel to be recorded when a ship is preparing to enter an ECA or for other reasons. The main purpose of this is to permit PSC inspectors to determine if, at the time the ship entered the ECA, the correct type of fuel was being used in the engines. It is not possible for an instant switchover to a different fuel to be made because this is unsafe and could result in damage to most engines. The changeover process can take several hours to be managed safely although there are now automated means to do this.
Safety regulations concerning fuels and lubricants are mostly concerned with their flammable nature. As previously mentioned, there is a lower limit of 60ºC on the flashpoint of marine fuels except for fuel for emergency pumps where a lower limit of 43ºC is permitted, providing the fuel is stored away from machinery spaces. Setting the SOLAS flashpoint at 60ºC precludes the use of road fuels for engines in ECAs because a limit of 57ºC usually applies to that sector.
After more than a century of using oil as fuel for ships, it is not surprising that most regulation covers oils either as fuels or as lubricants. The only other fuel commonly in use today is LNG and until recently it was not really covered by any international regulation.
Gas fuel rules will need to grow
Although still a relatively small fraction of the world fleet, the number of ships using LNG as fuel is increasing. The majority of such ships are still LNG carriers where the gas is not loaded as fuel but is provided by the boil-off from the cargo, but they will soon be outnumbered by other vessel types.
The catalyst for change was the adoption at MSC 95 in June 2015 of the International Code of Safety for ships using gases or other low flashpoint fuels (IGF Code) as this allowed for universal rules rather than the use of flag state dispensation as was previously the case. The IGF Code covers bunkering procedures as well as the storage and use of LNG as fuel onboard.
Adoption of the IGF Code involved amendments to SOLAS chapter II-1 (Construction – Structure, subdivision and stability, machinery and electrical installations) that included amendments to Part F Alternative design and arrangements, to provide a methodology for alternative design and arrangements for machinery, electrical installations and low-flashpoint fuel storage and distribution systems; and a new Part G Ships using low flashpoint fuels, to add new regulations to require ships constructed after 1 January 2017 to comply with the requirements of the code. There are related amendments to chapter II-2 and Appendix (Certificates).
The IGF Code contains mandatory provisions for the arrangement, installation, control and monitoring of machinery, equipment and systems using low-flashpoint fuels, focusing initially on LNG. It addresses all areas that need special consideration for the use of low-flashpoint fuels, taking a goal-based approach, with goals and functional requirements specified for each section forming the basis for the design, construction and operation of ships using this type of fuel.
The IMO has also adopted related amendments to the STCW Code to include new mandatory minimum requirements for the training and qualifications of personnel on ships subject to the Code. The amendments also came into force date on 1 January 2017, in line with the SOLAS amendments related to the IGF Code.
It is anticipated that as the use of alternative fuels grows, specific requirements cover fuels such as hydrogen, ethane and LPG will need to be added to the IGF Code in order to avoid flag states needing to make their own rules as used to be the case with LNG.
A matter of record
In its attempts to control pollution by oil, IMO regulations not only deal with practical matters but also cover the administrative aspects by the mandatory use of Oil Record Books. The Oil Record Book (ORB) is supposed to detail the management of all fuel and other oil on board and the fuel consumption and disposal of waste oils and used consumables such as filters that will by their very nature be contaminated with oil waste.
Maintaining the ORB accurately is essential for ships if they are to avoid PSC intervention and prosecution. The vast fines and custodial sentences meted out by US courts and other legal authorities are rarely direct punishment for illegal discharges – discharges outside territorial waters would not be actionable – but false record keeping since the ORB is considered as a legal document.
In addition to the international conventions, there are also a number of regional regulations concerning emissions which are influenced by fuel choice. Probably the most well-known are the EU’s directive on using ultra low-sulphur fuel in ports and the California Air Resources Board requirement for ships to switch from heavy fuel oil to low-sulphur marine distillate fuel before entering ‘Regulated California Waters’.