EU seeking sampling guidelines for sulphur checks

unniArticle courtesy of Bunkerworld

Fuel oil sampling during delivery on receiving ship (Photo: Unni Einemo)

Work is underway in the European Union (EU) to establish common guidelines for port state control (PSC) officers taking ‘in use’ fuel samples from ships to check for compliance with sulphur limits.

Draft guidelines for taking such sulphur inspection samples are being developed by the European Sustainable Shipping Forum (ESSF).

ESSF was set up by the European Commission to look at efforts for “a cost-efficient and coherent implementation” of the provisions of Directive 2012/33/EU, know as the Sulphur Directive, which transposes International Maritime Organization (IMO) low sulphur standards into EU law.

It becomes particularly important from 2015, when the sulphur limit in emission control areas (ECAs) drops to 0.10% and the temptation for operators to cheat becomes much greater because of higher fuel costs.

The Netherlands, which has probably undertaken more spot checks on fuel sulphur content than any other administration, always takes ‘in use’ fuel samples from ships to verify the sulphur content.

Dutch port state control (PSC) inspectors undertake the initial check on a fuel sample taken from the ship’s service tanks or fuel systems with handheld XRF analysers that use X-ray technology. If that gives a reading indicating a non-compliant fuel, the sample is sent on to a certified fuel testing laboratory to verify the sulphur content.

Meindert Vink from the Netherlands Shipping Inspectorate told reporters at a recent meeting in Rotterdam that efforts were underway to harmonise PSC practices in the EU with regards to enforcement of sulphur limits. This included guidelines for taking a representative fuel sample from ships, and more use of sulphur emission ‘sniffer’ technology to help authorities select ships for closer inspection.

Vink said that in the Netherlands, the MARPOL sample — which is required under the IMO’s MARPOL Annex VI for the exclusive use of PSC inspectors — would only be used to check on bunker suppliers’ compliance with the sulphur limits.

The IMO has discussed the need for establishing guidelines for drawing ‘in use’ fuel samples from a ship, in recognition of the fact that this what most PSC officers do rather than testing the MARPOL sample. By taking such samples, PSC can verify the sulphur content of the fuel going into the vessel’s engine as opposed to what was supplied to the ship.

So far the IMO has not agreed on establishing guidelines for this. Part of the reason for resistance has been a feeling it puts too much onus on the ship to comply, and involves more work for PSC officers when there is already a MARPOL sample available for testing to show what the ship received.

The IMO has established guidelines for how to take the MARPOL sample. This has also been controversial because it differs from how commercial fuel samples are collected in most of the world. The MARPOL sample is supposed to be drawn from the receiving vessel’s bunker inlet manifold, using a continuous drip method for the duration of the delivery to make sure it is representative of the fuel deliver to the ship.

In most countries, except for Singapore, commercial samples are drawn from the outlet manifold on the bunker barge. It can be difficult to get a supplier’s required counter-signature on the ship’s MARPOL sample, and in some jurisdictions the ship will have to accept a sample drawn at the barge as the MARPOL sample.

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