Game changer: new IMO sulphur rules



Simon Bennett, Director of Policy & External Relations, International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), London, UK


As every ship operator will be well aware, important and potentially game changing new rules began to be implemented from January 1, 2015 as a result of International Maritime Or g a n i z a t i on (IMO) requirements with respect to the use of fuel with a sulphur content of less than 0.1%. With IMO approval, and as permitted by Annex VI of the IMO MARPOL Convention, sulphur Emission Control Areas (ECAs) have so far been established in the North Sea and the Baltic, and within 200 miles of most of the US and Canada. At some point in the future, the EU may decide that ECAs should be extended into the Mediterranean, but at the moment there are no definite plans to do so. It is also possible that China may eventually decide to establish an ECA, perhaps in the Pearl River Delta and around Shanghai. But for now, the ECAs only exist in North West Europe and North America. In 2020, however – unless the IMO decides to postpone – the additional global cap will also apply, so that the permitted sulphur content in fuel, in all waters outside of ECAs, will be reduced to 0.5%.

Shipping industry compliance

The shipping industry is fully committed to total compliance with the 0.1% sulphur in fuel requirements, in Emission Control Areas, from January, 2015, and there is no reason to suggest that there will not be full compliance. But there is nevertheless concern amongst those owners who know that they themselves will comply but who may worry about their competitors. The shipping industry will be investing billions of dollars in order to ensure compliance with this major regulatory change. It therefore seems only fair that governments should implement the rules in a uniform manner as we enter a brave new world in which fuel costs, for some ships, will increase overnight by around 50%.

Port State Control

At the level of Port State Control (PSC), the national authorities covered by the Paris Memorandum of Understanding (the official document in which the 27 participating Maritime Authorities agreed to implement a harmonised system of Port State Control), which includes Canada, Russia and the EU Member States, have made it clear that PSC enforcement will also take place outside of the Emission Control Areas. For example, in the Mediterranean it will apply in the first port of call following transit through an ECA. However, it will be vital for the maintenance of fair competition that implementation occurs throughout the Paris Memorandum of Understanding region in a consistent way. But the extent to which this will happen in practice immediately after January 1 is still unknown.

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