MARPOL Annex VI 2020 — SOx issues
Updated 11 Oct 2019
Just as CO2 is formed by the combustion process, so burning fuel containing nitrogen and sulphur in air will produce NOx and SOx. 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 to some degree by use of in-engine technologies and that LNG produces lower NOx levels than fuel oils. Additional equipment such as selective catalytic reducers can cut the level of NOx from oil fuels even further.
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 into 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.
At the time when the sulphur level rules were being formulated, scrubbing technology was at an embryonic stage and, many believed, 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.
Determining 2020 as the date for the global cap on sulphur was not without controversy but although it has been accepted by the shipping industry, there are many who believe that the rules will be widely flouted. Shipowners that plan to fully comply with the rules regardless of cost believe that their efforts will be undermined by ‘cheats’ who continue to use fuels outside of the new rules and called for measures to prevent this from happening.
At MEPC 72 in April 2018, the IMO approved draft amendments to regulation 14 of MARPOL Annex VI and the form of the Supplement to the IAPP Certificate concerning prohibition on the carriage of noncompliant fuel oil for combustion purposes for propulsion or operation on board a ship, with a view to adoption at MEPC 73.
The change was duly adopted and effectively bans any ship not fitted with a scrubber from having any fuel with a sulphur content above 0.5% on board except as cargo. The exemption for all vessels in case of non-availability of fuel is still be available. 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 shipowners, 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
- 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.
As the deadline for implementation of the 2020 sulphur limits draws closer there is increasing argument over the implications in many areas. There are effectively three ways to meet the rules: use scrubbing technology, use compliant oil fuels or use an alternative to oil fuels such as LNG.
From mid-2018 through to the present, uptake of scrubbers has increased dramatically. This, coupled with rising bunker prices, means that many ships fitted with scrubbers will have a competitive advantage over ships without. Owners and operators that look to lose out to scrubber-fitted ships have attacked scrubbers as merely moving pollution from stack to sea. This has been challenged by scrubber proponents and some national delegations such as Japan which at PPR 6 in February 2019 made the case for scrubbers arguing that as well as the wash water being safe and relatively harmless, scrubbers also improved air quality by removing much of the particulate matter. The debate over scrubber washwater is ongoing and at MEPC 74 in May 2019, the issue was referred to a working group to consider and report back through future PPR meetings. MEPC 74 also discussed many of the other issues relating to 2020 changes including the suitability and safety issues of compatibility of different compliant fuel types and their long-term stability. The meeting also tackled other issues such as non-compliance and availability of compliant fuel.
Under Resolution MEPC.320(74) entitled 2019 GUIDELINES FOR CONSISTENT IMPLEMENTATION OF THE 0.50% SULPHUR LIMIT UNDER MARPOL ANNEX VI, the IMO has set out some non-mandatory proposals for ensuring consistent implementation and provided further details of action to be taken in case of non-availability of compliant fuel.
This will entail the completion of a ‘fuel oil non-availability report’ (FONAR) explaining the circumstances and intended action that has to be advised to the flag state. Completion of a FONAR does not guarantee immunity to a ship using non-compliant fuel but is merely an explanation of why it was necessary to do so. It remains a non-compliance situation for a ship to arrive at its next port with fuel oil of more than 0.50% sulphur content.
A circular agreed at MEPC to be issued outlines a number of possible scenarios which the port state, flag state and ship can agree to apply in such circumstances. This ranges from requiring de-bunkering at the port to keeping the non-compliant fuel onboard until next port in a controlled manner. The guidelines do not pre-judge what control actions a port state may take in such circumstances, and it cannot be ruled out that some port states may still penalise ships for arriving with non-compliant fuel onboard in any case. This is similar to the guidance issued by the IMO for non-compliance with the 2004 ballast convention.
The IMO has made determined efforts not to phase in the 2020 requirements but how far ships can be expected to meet them due to practical reasons remains to be seen.
Fuel switch safety implications and procedures
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.