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Published on 11/10/2019

Is A Soft Start For Sulpher 2020 On The Horizon?

Any vehicle which uses fuel these days comes under close scrutiny and ships are no exception.

The effects of shipping on the environment were particularly highlighted to the general public when the United Nations publicly excluded it from its 2015 Paris agreement. With the world media as well as many conservational bodies flying the eco flag, the approaching Sulpher 2020 deadline is only going to rocket the activity around this – we’re not quite sure how compliant that rocket fuel will be!

It has long been touted that the marine industry has to catch up with its land-based peers in terms of emission control, but we all know it isn’t that simple.

Any crew will know that one fly in the ‘Sulpher ointment’ is that there is also a need to comply with new MARPOL regulations intended to preserve the marine environment. To comply with these regulations and minimise the impact on marine wildlife through oil spillages, dumping or accidental discharge of harmful substances, it restricts ships from operating their engines in the most efficient way.

So they are expected to reduce their emissions to meet the Sulpher 2020 regulations of their fuel-burning less than 0.5% sulphur content, whilst unavoidably needing to burn more fuel through more carefully executed voyages to comply with MARPOL.

It could easily feel like ships are being handed a double-edged sword – or an impossible task.

A further, and much larger, complication is the availability and cost of compliant fuel – the onus has been placed on ships to comply but the ripple effect will be significant. The knock-on effect to the supply chain costs alone cannot be ignored.

Indonesia has already announced that within it’s coastal waters, its flag-state ships will still be allowed to use 3.5% sulphur fuel after 1 January, due to the costs and availability of compliant fuel and the inherent risk of a price increase for consumer goods. It has given no definite deadline to when it will comply, simply using ‘until the cost and availability of compliant fuel improves’ as it’s caveat.

Unsurprisingly, other countries from the 91 signatories of the regulation are also considering their options potentially asking for a ‘soft start’ to Sulpher 2020. If allowed, this won’t be the first time that a blind eye has been turned to non-compliance of new regulations. Rigid implementation of the VGM container weighing edict in 2016 posed such a risk of chaos in the ports, that for weeks after its introduction many authorities overlooked the initial confusion.

Realistically, for a smooth switchover to the compliant fuel in readiness for IMO 2020, shipowners will need to start this around two months beforehand as it isn’t simply a matter of switching fuels. Tanks will need to be scrubbed as well as all pipework cleaned and flushed thoroughly to remove any residues of the heavy fuel oil (HFO) which could contaminate the compliant fuel.

Tanks will need to be drained to do this so it is estimated that a good two weeks will need to be allowed for this process. Extrapolate this out for your fleet and that’s quite an operation before you address the fact that compliant fuel isn’t readily available or remotely cost-effective.

An additional consideration to consider is the difference around the world in sulphur variations. Even if all fuel was Sulpher compliant, ship engines cannot cope with mixing fuels from different providers all over the world. The ‘sludge’ a vessel would create by mixing one fuel with a 0.47% sulphur content for instance, with a 0.43% is a significant problem on its own!

Despite these known challenges, there are further obstacles being placed across the globe to deter non-compliance of Sulpher, one being that certain geographic zones are taxing you on your emissions. Emissions trading would get a whole lot busier if the shipping industry adopted this practice too!

But if nothing else, all of these issues show that there is a strong emphasis on the reporting of the emissions with it no longer being acceptable to ignore the impact of your vessel. You now need to be far more in control of how your reporting is done so preparing for the imminent roll-out of these regulations is critical.

One of the biggest hurdles to all of this, however, is accurate data recording. Many vessels, particularly older ones, are relying on outdated fuel consumption models to report their emissions data. Not only is this time consuming for the crew, but it is also often inaccurate.

In their quest to comply with the reporting of emissions requirement of ISO 14001, many modern shipping companies are using our Evolution EMS™ emissions monitoring system to monitor their air emissions which is currently considered best practice.

Being the world’s first NOx, SOx & CO2 emissions monitoring system, Evolution EMS™ provides a range of operational advantages for ship owners, managers and operators.

The reporting activity alone which will follow on from Sulpher 2020 is going to keep ship operators busy but having this done for you automatically and recorded accurately is a powerful starting point.

Once you have an accurate picture of your emissions, you know how close you are to Sulpher 2020 compliance. This also gives you a strong foundation to bargain with if you’re not yet compliant, being able to work out a realistic transition plan with authorities.

Besides sending the message that you are taking your emissions seriously, other advantages to using Evolution EMS™ onboard include:

We also understand the scale of new regulations, and with the global shift towards accountability and sustainability, there’s a strong chance that there’s far more legislative change ahead. That’s why the Evolution EMS™ system has also been designed to be ‘future proof’ against future regulations. By allowing simple ‘plug and play’ analyser inputs, it ensures no additional ship emissions reporting system will ever need to be purchased.

If you’d like advice or further information on Evolution EMS™ for your vessels, or to explore how any of our range can help your safety and regulatory compliance, we’re always here to help so get in touch.