An important milestone on the road to controlling greenhouse gas emissions from shipping has been achieved with the adoption of mandatory requirements by the IMO, and a date of 2020 has been set for a significant reduction in the sulphur content of marine fuels
The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meeting in September was a momentous one in a number of respects. Under mandatory requirements agreed at MEPC 70, ships will have to collect consumption data for each type of fuel oil they use, as well as other, additional, specified data including proxies for transport work. The data collected will provide a firm basis on which future decisions on additional measures, over and above those already adopted by IMO, can be made. IMO secretary-general Kitack Lim said the new requirements sent a clear signal that IMO was ready to build on the existing technical and operational measures for ship energy efficiency. “The data collection system will equip IMO with concrete data to help it make the right decisions, as well as enhancing its credentials as the best placed and competent forum for regulating international shipping,” Mr Lim said. The new mandatory data collection system is intended to be the first in a three-step approach in which analysis of the data collected would provide the basis for an objective, transparent and inclusive policy debate in the MEPC. This would allow a decision to be made on whether any further measures are needed to enhance energy efficiency and address greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping. If so, proposed policy options would then be considered.
The decision to implement a global sulphur cap of 0.50 per cent m/m (mass/mass) in 2020 represents a significant cut from the 3.5 per cent m/m global limit currently in place and demonstrates a clear commitment by IMO to ensuring shipping meets its environmental obligations. Mr Lim welcomed the decision, which he said reflected the IMO’s determination to ensure that international shipping remains the most environmentally sound mode of transport. Further work to ensure effective implementation of the 2020 global sulphur cap will continue in the Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR). Regulations governing sulphur oxide emissions from ships are included in Annex VI to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL Convention). Annex VI sets progressively stricter regulations in order to control emissions from ships, including sulphur oxides (SOx) and nitrous oxides (NOx), which present major risks to both the environment and human health.
Under the new global cap, ships will have to use fuel oil on board with a sulphur content of no more than 0.50 per cent m/m, against the current limit of 3.50 per cent, which has been in effect since 1 January 2012. The interpretation of ‘fuel oil used on board’ includes use in main and auxiliary engines and boilers. Exemptions are provided for situations involving the safety of the ship or saving life at sea or if a ship or its equipment is damaged. Ships can meet the requirement by using low sulphur compliant fuel oil. Ships may also meet the SOx emission requirements by using approved equivalent methods, such as exhaust gas cleaning systems or ‘scrubbers’, which ‘clean’ the emissions before they are released into the atmosphere. In this case, the equivalent arrangement must be approved by the ship’s administration (the flag state). The new global cap will not change the limit in SOx emission control areas (ECAs) established by IMO, which, since 1 January 2015, has been 0.10 per cent m/m. The ECAs established under MARPOL Annex VI for SOx are the Baltic Sea area, the North Sea area, the North American area (covering designated coastal areas off the United States and Canada) and the United States Caribbean Sea area (around Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands).