Reasons to be thankful
When nearing the end of a year, we often reflect on the on what happened, and look ahead to what lies ahead. Most of us will remember 2020 as the year when a dangerous virus spread rapidly to become a pandemic that affected us all, and look forward to 2021 full of hope that it will be the year when COVID-19 is finally brought under control.
So what, you may wonder, do we have to be thankful for? At IBIA, we have several reasons:
1. IMO 2020 went much better than many had predicted
As the global maritime industry looked ahead to the 0.50% sulphur limit for bunkers, doom and gloom often prevailed about what a disaster IMO 2020 would be in terms of fuel quality and safety, availability and cost to industry. At IBIA, we worked relentlessly during 2019 to help the industry navigate safely through this monumental challenge. IBIA’s efforts made a positive difference at the IMO in preparing its framework for ensuring consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit. Preparation is key and our message since the start of 2019 was for all stakeholders to plan, prepare and practice for the transition. With the exception of expected teething problems around availability, quality and compatibility during the transition process, preparations have paid off. A fall in oil prices from early in the year made low sulphur fuels more affordable than expected, alleviating stress on credit lines. Some fuel quality issues remain, and VLSFO fuel management requires more attention to deal with the variable characteristics of these fuels, but as we look back on 2020, I am grateful that the industry adapted successfully.
2. Our 2020 Annual Dinner took place before the pandemic
At our Annual Dinner in February, myself and the chairman of IBIA delivered our speeches in a video inspired by the movie Titanic. My speech focused on how many believed we were headed for a colossal iceberg due to IMO 2020, but we had avoided disaster. “We must of course remain alert. There are still icebergs in the sea but when we know about them, we can mitigate the risks,” I said. What we didn’t know when we scripted that video was that the world was heading toward a different kind of iceberg. By the time we hosted our dinner, we were wary of the growing threat of the coronavirus outbreak, but we had no idea how bad it would become. We were delighted to see many of our members joining us for a hugely enjoyable evening at the start of IP Week, and for the first time in IBIA’s history, we were honoured to host the Secretary General of the IMO, Kitack Lim, at the Chairman’s table.
3. Plugging into new ways of engaging
Apart from one IMO meeting, our Annual Dinner, two speaker engagements at conferences and social events during IP Week – all in February – I have not been to any physical events in 2020. What a contrast to 2019, when I travelled extensively to represent IBIA at our own events, or as a speaker at others. Thankfully, technology has enabled us to continue to do our work and take part in virtual events and meetings. In April 2020, we held our first online video IBIA member meeting to find out how they were coping with IMO 2020 and the new challenges caused by Covid-19. We have since held several such informal meetings, which are open to all IBIA members to actively participate and share experiences, comments and questions. As a member association, we want to hear from you and we have found these informal online video meetings a really useful way of connecting with IBIA members all over the world to discuss pertinent issues. We will be doing more of these during 2021. Personally, I have also participated and represented IBIA at a number of online conferences this year, and since June, at both informal and formal IMO meetings. I am thankful that we have been able to connect without expanding my personal carbon footprint.
4. The resilience of our industry in the face of challenges
The bunker industry has proven its resilience and ability to adapt in the face of both known challenges like IMO 2020, and unknown challenges like the coronavirus. Since mid-March, it has felt as if the world stood still amid efforts to control the coronavirus, but shipping and the bunker industry have continued to operate, adapting to new ways of working. We are part of an essential industry. Shipping is needed to keep the world’s population supplied with food, energy and other vital goods. Shipping is the engine of global trade and the bunker industry fuels that engine. We found ways of dealing with practical problems caused by restrictions on human interactions. This resilience and innovation will serve us well on the road toward zero emissions, which will be challenging.
5. Cooperation and pursuing common goals
As IBIA’s IMO Representative, much of my time is taken up by contributing to IMO’s work on addressing a range of issues relating to marine fuels. During 2020, our main input was at PPR 7 in February, and at MEPC 75 in November. IBIA played an active part in plenary, working groups, and in the drafting group that finalised the text for amendments to MARPOL Annex VI prior to adoption. IMO meetings can be fractious and discouraging, which is to be expected when politics and practical considerations pull in different directions, but a spirit of cooperation in pursuing common goals eventually bring results. IMO meetings in 2021 will be busier than ever because 2020 meetings were postponed and restricted in time. We will need input from IBIA members to formulate our position on key subjects such as fuel oil safety, regulations for low flashpoint fuels, and ongoing efforts to minimise shipping’s negative impact on the ecosystems that sustain us all.
IBIA will also continue to work with our members and relevant partners in pushing for higher standards across our industry, including bunker licensing schemes to promote transparency and fair play.
6. Strong support from our members and the board of IBIA
IBIA has always ensured a low membership fee and balanced the cost of running the association by organising events that support our ambition of being the place where all industry players meet up, and enable us to represent the industry effectively at the IMO and elsewhere. COVID-19 has challenged this concept as we have not been able to host any physical events since February 2020, and we cannot do so until we are confident that it is safe. This leaves IBIA in a challenged position as we depend on revenues from our events to run the Association. We have reached out to our members for assistance to ensure we can achieve our ambitions through a fundraising campaign. Our request has been very positively received and we are deeply grateful to our supporters who see the value in IBIA and have made generous financial contributions, as well as those who sponsored our Annual Dinner and virtual Convention in 2020.
We receive support in other ways too. The board of IBIA give their time and expertise, and set goals for IBIA which they work on helping us achieve. We also appreciate all the IBIA members who share their knowledge and experiences with us, either through participation in IBIA events and member meetings, our working groups, or individually when we ask for input and advice. These interactions are of huge value to understand the industry so we can represent it effectively, and set us on the right course for the future.
2020 will go down in history as one of the most challenging years ever, but I am grateful that the industry and IBIA have weathered the storm so far. Vaccinations against the coronavirus have started, giving us hope that some level of normality will be restored within the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, stay safe, thank you for being a part of IBIA in 2020, and we look forward to working with you toward a better future in the coming year.
This article was first published in the final 2020 edition of World Bunkering, IBIA’s official magazine.