Flashpoint: New IMO regulations put onus on suppliers

Amendments to SOLAS Chapter II-2 include detailed flashpoint documentation requirements for suppliers, and for authorities to report off-specs. Unni Einemo explains what it all means

After years of discussion, the IMO has formally adopted a set of SOLAS amendments designed to prevent the supply of fuels in breach of the minimum 60°C flashpoint limit in SOLAS Chapter II-2. IBIA has worked hard to ensure the amendments are pragmatic and workable. Now we need to ensure these new regulatory elements are properly understood, as there is scope for confusion.

IBIA took part in the 106th session of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 106, November 2 to 11), including the so-called ‘Drafting Group’ which did a final review of the draft regulatory amendments prior to adoption. During these final discussions about the exact wording, I discovered that what seems perfectly clear and logical to those of us who have been part of the full regulatory drafting process, is not equally clear to those who are not familiar with the thinking behind amendments. That means the amendments could be open to misunderstandings, which is concerning and unhelpful if various parties have different ideas about what the regulation actually means.

The amendments, which add new elements to SOLAS Chapter II-2, are written in a way that pre-supposes knowledge of the entire regulation, such as existing definitions and other specific parts of the regulation.

Let’s take a look at the substantial amendments.

Amendments to SOLAS Chapter II-2

Part A: General – Regulation 3

Definitions

The following new paragraphs are added after existing paragraph 58, together with the associated footnotes:

59        Confirmed case (flashpoint) is when a representative sample analysed in accordance with standards acceptable to the Organization* by an accredited laboratory** reports the flash point as measured to be below 60°C.

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* ISO 2719:2016- Determination of flash point – Pensky-Martens closed cup method, Procedure A (for Distillate Fuels) or Procedure B (for Residual Fuels)

** The laboratory is to be accredited to ISO/IEC 17025:2017 or an equivalent standard for the performance of the given flash point test ISO 2719:2016.

60        Representative sample is a product specimen having its physical and chemical characteristics identical to the average characteristics of the total volume being sampled.

61        Oil fuel is defined in regulation 1 of Annex 1 of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto.

Part B: Prevention of fire and explosion – Regulation 4

Probability of ignition

The following new sub-paragraphs are added after existing paragraph 2.1.5, together with the associated footnotes: 

.6            ships carrying oil fuel shall prior to bunkering be provided with a declaration signed and certified by the oil fuel supplier’s representative, that the oil fuel to be supplied is in conformity with paragraph 2.1 of this regulation, and the test method used for determining the flashpoint. A bunker delivery note for the oil fuel delivered to the ship shall contain either the flashpoint specified in accordance with standards acceptable to the Organization*, or a statement that the flashpoint has been measured at or above 70ºC**;

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* ISO 2719:2016, Determination of flash point – Pensky-Martens closed cup method, Procedure A (for Distillate Fuels) or Procedure B (for Residual Fuels)

** This information may be included in the bunker delivery note according MARPOL Annex VI/18

.7            Contracting Governments undertake to ensure that appropriate authorities designated by them inform the Organization for transmission to Contracting Governments and Member States thereof, of all confirmed cases (flashpoint) where oil fuel suppliers have failed to meet the requirements specified in paragraph 2.1 of this regulation; and

.8            Contracting Governments undertake to ensure that appropriate authorities designated by them take action, as appropriate, against oil fuel suppliers that have been found to deliver oil fuel that does not comply with paragraph 2.1 of this regulation.

These SOLAS amendments are expected to enter into force as of 1 January, 2026.

Explainer: New definitions

Before looking at the new paragraphs added to Regulation 3, Definitions, let me bring another very important paragraph from Regulation 3 to your attention:

“24        Flashpoint is the temperature in degrees Celsius (closed cup test) at which a product will give off enough flammable vapour to be ignited, as determined by an approved flashpoint apparatus.”

The reference to a closed cup test is essential, as it is also possible to do an open-cup test for flashpoint which will give a higher flashpoint reading than the closed-cup test. The limit for flashpoint for regular oil fuels is 60°C minimum, so it must be understood that only a closed-cup test is acceptable.

The new paragraph 59 definition for “Confirmed case (flashpoint)” makes it clear that any test result below 60°C flashpoint will be considered as having failed to meet the minimum limit. The 95% confidence limit as per ISO 4259 will not be taken into account by relevant authorities.

The new paragraph 60 definition for “Representative sample” is generic in nature. It seeks to ensure that the sample is truly representative of “the total volume being sampled”. This could be a sample taken during the bunker delivery, but it could also be a tank sample. The MSC Correspondence Group on Oil Fuel Safety, which IBIA takes part in, has been asked to develop guidelines for SOLAS sampling procedures. It may be agreed that the existing MARPOL delivered sample could be used, so that a joint MSC-MEPC guideline could offer a way forward, allowing a single sample to be available for authorities to check for compliance with flashpoint and/or sulphur to establish compliance.

The new paragraph 61 definition for “Oil fuel” is an example of how knowledge of other IMO regulations is required to make sense of new ones, in this case of MARPOL Annex I, which defines Oil fuel as “any oil used as fuel in connection with the propulsion and auxiliary machinery of the ship in which such oil is carried.” Oil is defined in MARPOL Annex I as “petroleum in any form including crude oil, fuel oil, sludge, oil refuse and refined products.”

Explainer: New flashpoint documentation requirements

The new sub-paragraph 6 added after existing paragraph 2.1.5 in SOLAS Chapter II-2, Regulation 4, and the associated footnotes, puts several new demands on bunker suppliers. At present, bunker suppliers are already guaranteeing to provide fuels meeting the flashpoint limit by both statutory and commercial means: statutory by providing a material safety data sheet (MSDS) to the receiving ship, and commercially by selling fuels against ISO 8217 specifications, which include the same flashpoint limits as SOLAS. The majority view among IMO Member States and shipping organisations with consultative status was that this is not sufficient to prevent supply of fuels below the limit.

This is why there are two new requirements: first, to provide a signed and certified declaration of compliance prior to supply (stating also the test method used to determine flashpoint, which should be ISO 2719:2016), and second, a requirement for documenting flashpoint on the bunker delivery note (BDN).

For a long time, it looked like the regulation would require the flashpoint to be documented regardless of how high it was, but a concerted effort by IBIA, including an IBIA /submission to MSC 105 earlier this year, succeeded in explaining that in practice, laboratories typically only test to determine if the fuel has a flashpoint above 70°C as that is sufficient to guarantee it is above the 60°C minimum.

Hence, once the amendment enters into force, suppliers will have to provide, on the BDN, either the flashpoint value measured in Celsius (°C), or a statement that flashpoint has been measured at or above 70°C.

This was perplexing to one of the delegates taking part in the Drafting Group at MSC 106. He was a former Chief Engineer and currently a Port State Control Officer, but he was not familiar with the thinking behind requiring either a specific flashpoint value, or a statement about it being measured at or above 70°C. If he found it ambiguous, others could too.

Some important things to note, therefore, for anybody confused about what this actually means:

Firstly, there is no change to the flashpoint limit; it continues to be no less than 60°C for all oil fuels unless specifically provided for use in emergency generators, where oil fuel with a flashpoint of not less than 43°C may be used. ISO 8217 Table 1 (Distillates) has one grade for this purpose, namely DMX, with a minimum flashpoint of 43°C. All other ISO 8217 grades for marine distillates and marine residual fuels specify a 60°C minimum for flashpoint.

Secondly, the closed-cup flashpoint test will provide a specified temperature when an ignition source produces a “flash” in the sample. If this flash occurs at a temperature below 70°C, this must be reported on the BDN. If, however, the sample is heated to 70°C or above without producing a flash, there won’t be an actual measured flashpoint temperature to report, but this is sufficient to meet the requirement for a statement that the flashpoint has been measured at or above 70°C.


Coordination with MARPOL Annex VI

Finally, it is worth noting the footnote to this new sub-paragraph 6 in SOLAS Chapter II-2. It says that “This information may be included in the bunker delivery note according MARPOL Annex VI/18”

The 77th session of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 77), which met in November 2021, considered draft amendments to amend Appendix V of MARPOL Annex VI – Information to be included in the bunker delivery note (Regulation 18.5). The draft wording for the new information to be included in the BDN is: “Flashpoint (°C) or a statement that flashpoint has been measured at or above 70°C”.

This amendment is up for adoption at MEPC 79 (12-16 December, 2022) and is expected to enter into force on 1 May, 2024. In other words, it looks like new flashpoint documentation requirements for suppliers will come into force under MARPOL Annex VI before the SOLAS Chapter II-2 amendments, which are expected to enter into force as of 1 January, 2026.

I won’t provide any further explanation to the additional sub-paragraphs 7 and 8 to 2.1.5 in SOLAS Chapter II-2, Regulation 4 as these should hopefully be self-explanatory. That’s not to say that enforcement will be even-handed though; as we have already seen with similar requirements in MARPOL Annex VI with regards to reporting confirmed cases where oil fuel suppliers have failed to meet sulphur limits, and for authorities to take “action, as appropriate” against suppliers.

Thankfully, cases of off-spec flashpoint reported on the basis of ship’s samples sent to fuel testing agencies are really rather rare compared to potential sulphur off-specs. Typically, across several fuel testing agencies, less than 1% of distillate fuels and less than 0.5% of heavy fuel oil samples test below the 60°C flashpoint limit, and for the most part only marginally so.