Panama Changes Bunker Regulation to Clarify Fuel Switching Rule

Wednesday February 15, 2017

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has made changes to its bunker regulations in order to clarify a rule on fuel switching.

The rule, which has been in place since 2001, requires vessels maneuvering in Canal waters to switch from "heavy fuel" to "light fuel."

"This requirement was included from 2001 until 2016 in Notice to Shipping No. N-10, Operational Equipment Tests. Beginning in 2017, the aforementioned requirement on maneuvering fuel was removed from the revised version of Notice to Shipping No. N-10, and included in OP Notice to Shipping N-1-2017, Vessel Requirements," ACP explained in its official circular on the matter released earlier this month.

In practice, however, operators have told Ship & Bunker that the regulation was neither readily understood or particularly enforced.

"The requirement on maneuvering fuel is not new. It has been in place since 2001, but often overlooked. Therefore, it was removed from Notice to shipping N-10 and included in Notice to Shipping N-1 as of this year. This served the purpose of making it noticeable," ACP told Ship & Bunker.

"This requirement mandates vessels to switch from heavy fuel (even if it meets the 3.5% cap) to light fuel (MGO or MDO) meeting all IMO specs, especially the cap on sulfur content which is currently 3.5%."

Some of Ship & Bunker readers have expressed confusion over the change, believing it to mean Emissions Control Area (ECA) compliant bunkers are now required to transit the Canal.

However, ACP has clarified that this is not the case.

"According to the MARPOL CONVENTION Annex VI, Appendix VII, the Panama Canal is located outside the ECA area (Emission Control Area) so ships transiting the Panama Canal do not have to meet the requirement of maximum 0.1% Sulphur content in the fuel," ACP told Ship & Bunker.

While the regulation is a fuel switching regulation, AMP notes that: "If the vessel is equipped with scrubbers it can burn heavy fuel (residual) that does not exceed a Sulphur content of 3.5% m/m."

The change to N-1-2017 also defines "Light fuel" and "Heavy fuel" as that classified by ISO 8216-1:2010.