Have the IMO and the International Chamber of Shipping Overlooked the Obvious?

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), whose members represent more than 80% of the world’s merchant fleet, has expressed disappointment and concern at a decision by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to reject its call to accelerate a study into the global availability of low sulphur fuel for ships.

The ICS was pressing for the IMO to start work on a comprehensive fuel availability study that could consider the impact of all the changes required by the new MARPOL Annex VI regime, to reduce atmospheric pollution, before it is too late for the oil refining industry to respond and invest.

imo sulfur limits graph
via Wartsila

Shipowners are worried about whether sufficient low sulfur or distillate fuel will be available to allow ships to comply with the strict IMO regulations on sulphur emissions that will come into effect within the Emission Control Areas in 2015, and globally in 2020.

Speaking after the vote at the IMO MEPC, ICS Secretary General, Peter Hinchliffe remarked, “Some governments still appear to have their heads in the sand with respect to fuel availability.  What will be the impact of ships switching to distillate on the availability of diesel for road transport or heating oil for homes?  We still think it’s essential that a global fuel study is carried out sufficiently in advance of 2020 to give the refiners adequate time to invest and react.  The major refinery upgrading required could take a minimum of four or five years, perhaps longer, and we believe that completing the study in 2018 would simply be too late.”

ICS argues that the need to move forward the IMO study is more important than ever, especially as the EU has already decided that it will definitely implement the 0.5% sulphur requirements in 2020, even if the IMO study results suggest, as permitted by MARPOL, that full implementation should be postponed until 2025.

“ICS has not given up, and we will bring the issue back to IMO next year” said Peter Hinchliffe. “The issue is just too important. The enormity of the switch to distillate and its economic impact on shipping, and indeed the world economy as whole, should not be underestimated or swept under the carpet.”

wartsila scrubber m/t suula
Image via Wartsila

The ICS’s argument appears rather invalid however.

Between 2008 and 2010, a study was conducted by Wärtsilä involving the Neste Shipping-owned tanker, M/T Suula, which had been outfitted with an emissions scrubber.  During the testing period, the third party accredited independent body, Pöyry Finland Oy, carried out SOx measurements while the ship ran on both high (3.4 %) and low sulphur (1.5 %) heavy fuel oil.

The test results were very positive.  The scrubber system was certified by both Germanischer Lloyd and Det Norske Veritas and the measured sulphur reduction was “well within the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) most stringent limits.”

In fact, there was no detectable SOx emissions whatsoever at any engine load while using the scrubber system.

sox wartsila scrubber emissions test

 

IMO’s Regulation 14 thus appears outdated.

The IMO assumes that in order to meet the low sulfur emissions requirements that a change to low sulfur fuel is required.  They state:

Most ships which operate both outside and inside these ECA will therefore operate on different fuel oils in order to comply with the respective limits. In such cases, prior to entry into the ECA, it is required to have fully changed-over to using the ECA compliant fuel oil, regulation 14.6, and to have onboard implemented written procedures as to how this is to be undertaken.

The above study proves that to be incorrect as scrubber systems, such as the one installed by Wärtsilä on the Suula, have been shown to reduce SOx emissions to undetectable levels.

It would appear that the next step would be for the IMO to revise their regulations to reflect the latest technology.