The ban looks to prevent the carriage of noncompliant bunkers. File Image / Pixabay
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has backed moves to ban the carriage of high sulfur bunkers as part of efforts to ensure compliance with a global 0.50% sulfur cap on marine fuel that comes into force on January 1, 2020.
The International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA) says it is now "very likely" the ban will come into effect, but not until March 1, 2020 at the earliest.
A ban would effectively make it an offence for any vessel to have noncompliant bunkers onboard unless it had a legitimate reason to do so - such as cases where vessels are fitted with a scrubber.
As Ship & Bunker previously reported, BIMCO, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), and the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) were among shipping industry voices proposing such a ban, and this week's IMO Sub-committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) debated two near-identical proposals for such a move.
"The carriage ban proposal, while not universally welcomed, received majority support at the 5th session of the IMO's Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR 5) and was made a high priority work item," IBIA said in a emailed note.
Such a move is expected to make enforcement of the new sulfur cap significantly easier as well as reducing the likelihood of noncompliance
"The carriage ban will be achieved by adding a few words to MARPOL Annex VI so that it is not only the sulphur content of 'any fuel oil used' on board ships, but also fuel oil 'carried for use' that 'shall not exceed' the 0.50% sulphur limit."
Such a move is expected to make enforcement of the new sulfur cap significantly easier as well as reducing the likelihood of noncompliance, as authorities would only have to identify cases where high sulfur fuel was onboard the vessel.
As things stand, authorities would have to prove a vessel had actually burned noncompliant fuel within its jurisdiction before action could be taken.
IBIA reports there was much discussion over whether the updated text should make it clear that the ban applies only to bunkers carried as fuel and not as cargoes, and also whether certain exceptions to the ban should be explicitly mentioned.
Those include, perhaps most notably, exceptions for vessels fitted with a scrubber or other technology allowing them to achieve an equivalent level of compliance with the new sulfur cap while burning otherwise noncompliant fuel, as well as instances where vessels have correctly documented that they were unable to obtain compliant fuel.
"While many felt this would be best, a majority argued against it," IBIA noted.
Should a ban be approved, the earliest it could be formally adopted would be at MEPC 73 in October 2018.
This means that even though the new sulfur cap comes into force on January 1, 2020, the earliest any such ban could come into force is March 1, 2020.