IBIA: New IMO Submission Calls for Clarity on Enforcement of 0.50% Sulfur Limit

by Unni Einemo, Director, International Bunker Industry Association
Thursday July 8, 2021

The industry has coped remarkably well with the implementation of IMO 2020, but variable approaches to enforcement of the 0.50% sulphur limit continues to cause a lot of problems and uncertainty for the shipping and fuel oil supply industries.

The main problem is a lack of consistency in how authorities decide whether a ship is in compliance with the 0.50% sulphur limit, and the associated ban on carrying fuel exceeding 0.50% sulphur for ships without abatement technology.

One particular concern is cases where ships have been required to debunker after reporting to authorities that they have received a test result from their own fuel oil testing programme against ISO 8217 parameters, on the ship's own sample, indicating a sulphur content marginally above 0.50%, but with the 95% confidence interval.

There have also been reports of authorities obtaining and testing in-use samples from ships and treating it as a non-compliance on the basis of a single test result above 0.50% sulphur, but within the 95% confidence interval, for example 0.51% or 0.52% sulphur.

IBIA brought the issue to the attention of the IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee with a statement at MEPC 75, urging Member Governments to apply the newly adopted amendments to MARPOL Annex VI regarding the verification procedure for a MARPOL Annex VI fuel oil sample.

Next week, the seventh session of the Sub-Committee on Implementation of IMO Instruments (III 7) will have a working group on a long-standing agenda item; Measures to harmonize Port State Control (PSC) activities and procedures worldwide.

In a bid to improve awareness and legal certainty, and highlighting the need for clarity and fairness, IBIA has put in a paper, III 7/5/8, co-sponsored by Jamaica under this agenda item. (Click here to see the document).

The document explains the issue in detail, but as a quick background, the issues we seek to address are:

  • Clarity regarding on what basis authorities can determine non-compliance with MARPOL sulphur limit. We believe it should be confirmed by testing a MARPOL sample in accordance with the regulation, and not on the basis of commercial samples such as a ship's own sample.
  • Foster better understanding and implementation of the sulphur verification procedure in appendix VI of MARPOL Annex VI, adopted by MEPC 75. In particular, get recognition of the fact the test result for a MARPOL "in use" sample and "on board" sample takes into account the inherent uncertainty of the sulphur test method and applies the 95% confidence principle to these samples.
  • Recognition that the 95% confidence principle applies to fuel oil used and carried for use by the ship and hence any fuel that has tested within 95% confidence of the 0.50% sulphur limit should not be debunkered. However, if the MARPOL delivered sample is above 0.50% sulphur (or 0.10% sulphur for ECA fuel) the fuel oil supplier would be considered as not having met the requirement and could face enforcement action.

Debunkering is not a trivial matter. Apart from causing delays and substantial financial costs, it also carries an environmental cost through extra CO2 emissions, and represents safety and environmental risks. In light of this, debunkering should only be required when it has been established, beyond reasonable doubt, that a ship is carrying fuel oil that exceeds the 0.50% sulphur limit.

In summary, our submission calls for the regulations and guidelines adopted by MEPC for consistent implementation of the 2020 sulphur limit to be better understood and implemented in a harmonised way by PSC authorities around the world.

The submission also seeks better clarity on the basis for enforcement action to ensure ships are not unduly penalised.