It looks very likely that MARPOL Annex VI will be amended to make it an offence carry bunkers above 0.50% sulphur, and that the carriage ban will be enforceable as early as 1 March, 2020.
The idea to make carriage, not just to use, of bunkers exceeding 0.50% sulphur content illegal was put forward in two near-identical proposals to an International Maritime Organization (IMO) meeting taking place at IMO’s London HQ from 5-9 February.
The carriage ban proposal, while not universally welcomed, received majority support at the 5th session of the IMO’s Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR 5) and was made a high priority work item.
The carriage ban will be achieved by adding a few words to MARPOL Annex VI so that it is not only the sulphur content of “any fuel oil used” on board ships, but also fuel oil “carried for use” that “shall not exceed” the 0.50% sulphur limit.
There was long debate about whether the regulatory text would make it sufficiently clear that the carriage ban applies only to oil fuel oil carried as bunkers in a ship’s fuel tanks, and that it does not apply to bunkers carried as cargo.
Likewise, there was a long discussion regarding whether the amendment necessitates making it more explicit that high sulphur fuel bunkers can still be carried by ships which have approved abatement technology or exemptions to trial such technology, and whether it will be necessary also to make an explicit reference to the non-availability clause in Regulation 18.2 of MARPOL Annex VI. While many felt this would be best, a majority argued against it.
The idea behind the carriage ban is that it will make enforcement of the 0.50% sulphur limit more effective and reduce the likelihood of non-compliance because it will make it easier for port State authorities to detect and sanction ships. The regulatory amendment means they only need to prove carriage of non-compliant bunkers, whereas the current regulatory text means they would have to prove that it has been used in their jurisdiction to be able to sanction the ship.
One of the two carriage ban proposals was submitted to PPR 5 by the Cook Island and Norway, who specifically asked for an accurate text for the regulatory amendment to be agreed at PPR 5 and then sent to the 72nd session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 72) in April as an urgent item.
As IBIA has been informing the industry at forums and in articles since September last year, if the carriage ban is approved at MEPC 72 and then formally adopted at MEPC 73 in October 2018, it could enter into force as soon as March 1, 2020, taking into account normal IMO procedures between a regulatory change being agreed, adopted and subsequently enter into force.
Report by Unni Einemo