MEPC 71: 2020 deadline reaffirmed as IMO agrees to promote consistent implementation

MEPC 71 in session (Photo: IMO)

Any suggestion that there may be any form of delay to the 1 January 2020 implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit in 2020 was ruled out at the 71st session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee last week, as a majority of member states rejected a proposal to collect data to allow the International Maritime Organization to take stock of the availability situation ahead of 2020.

Among the papers submitted to MEPC 71, two pointed out that there would be regional differences in the ability of refineries to meet demand for low sulphur fuels from the marine sector in 2020. Both papers suggested the IMO should take such data into account and consider transitional measures if data demonstrated significant difficulty in meeting demand.

One of the documents, submitted by Brazil and India, said data is needed from refineries and bunker suppliers as to how much 0.5% sulphur fuel they can offer for marine use in 2020 and also that data is needed from shipowners as to how many ships would be fitted with scrubbers by 2020. It proposed that the estimated requirement and availability needs to be made available to MEPC 73, which is due to be held in the later part of 2018, and that if the data show that “a very wide gulf for meaningful enforcement, MEPC may consider permitting an appropriate transitional period prior to enforcement.”

IBIA was first among those commenting on these two papers in plenary, saying: “At MEPC 70, the committee took a leap of faith and decided to introduce the 0.5% sulphur limit in 2020 based on a forecast that there would be sufficient refining capacity to meet global demand. It was a good decision, as it gave us certainty about the date so that we all know what we have to prepare for. We must be careful now to ensure we are not moving the target as that would send the wrong signal and throw preparations into disarray. The target date is the only thing that we actually know and we must not sow any doubt about it if we are going to succeed with the implementation.”

IBIA also pointed out, however, that the picture with regards to actual supply capacity, marine fuel demand and uptake of scrubbers will only become clearer much closer to the implementation date, and therefor supported the general idea of data collection.

“Obtaining such data on the cusp of the implementation date, along with non-availability reports provided to the IMO from the start of 2020, would help assess where availability of compliant fuels is problematic and also get a clearer picture of when and how the situation is improving,” IBIA told MEPC 71, adding: “If such data are made available for dissemination to member states it may assist their authorities when assessing fuel oil non availability reports.”

A large number of countries spoke in support of data collection, but the number of countries objecting to it was greater. Among their arguments against it was that the question of availability had already been addressed by the study undertaken for IMO by CE Delft which was provided to, and approved by, MEPC 70. Most importantly, however, they objected to the idea because they thought it may lead to uncertainty and potentially delay the preparation process. Any talk of a transitional period permitting exemptions was firmly rejected.

Although nobody said so, it is possible they were afraid that approving data collection may end up casting doubt on the conclusion in CE Delft study, which now seems to be interpreted by some as irrefutable evidence that there will be sufficient availability in 2020.

As one delegation noted: MEPC 71 had already postponed the implementation of one major regulation decision (a reference to a two-year extension of  the deadline to install ballast water treatment systems), and it would be a very poor signal if it was also opening the door to delaying another milestone regulation.

When IBIA and others supported data collection, our intention was clear: We do not want to call the implementation date into question. However, data would be helpful to monitor the situation and allow all parties understand it better and work on addressing any problems.

With a majority opposing data collection, MEPC 71 did not agree to specifically add this to the list of items in the scope of the so-called ‘new output’ on consistent implementation of the 2020 sulphur limit which was drafted by the Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR 4) in January this year. They said the scope developed at PPR 4 adequately addresses the issues. The scope  will, however, include a specific request from the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) to explicitly add to the list a consideration of the safety implications relating to blending fuels in order to meet the 0.50% sulphur limit.

There was, as expected, broad support at MEPC 71 to approve the new output on “Consistent implementation of regulation 14.1.3 of MARPOL Annex VI” developed at PPR 4, for inclusion in the Sub-Committee’s agenda with a target completion year of 2019. Recognising that time is short, PPR, which meets just once a year in January or February, will also hold an intersessional meeting in the second half of 2018 to progress work on consistent implementation of the 2020 sulphur regime.

Report by Unni Einemo:

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