The industry is anxious about ships potentially being penalised if, despite their best efforts, ships are unable to be fully compliant with the 0.50% sulphur limit. Naturally, the industry wants reassurance that port State control (PSC) authorities will refrain from taking enforcement actions against ships if they are non-compliant due to circumstances outside their control.
Many believe that it would be beneficial, therefore, if the IMO were to issue advice for PSC authorities to show some leniency during the initial phases of the new low-sulphur regime, when ships may have difficulty finding compliant fuels and ensuring their fuel systems are fully flushed of all high sulphur residues.
The 73rd session of The Marine Environment Protection Committee considered whether to include a reference to “practical and pragmatic approach by port State control authorities” in the MEPC circular with Guidance ship implementation planning for the consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit.
This came from a proposal made to the IMO by Norway earlier this year to call for PSC authorities to take a “practical and pragmatic approach” when inspecting ships for compliance during the first three months of 2020, provided these ships could present an implementation plan and a record of what it has done in order to be compliant by the applicable date.
When MEPC 73 discussed the circular, some supported inclusion of the reference but most who spoke were against it. The reasons for not including it were that such wording is vague which could lead to different legal interpretations and hence different treatment. PSC authorities need precise instructions, it was said. Moreover, some were concerned about such wording sending the wrong signal about preparedness.
The shipping industry, meanwhile, wants reassurance that if a ship can present an implementation plan, and evidence that it to use non-compliant fuel due to non-availability, that ship should not be penalised. Regulation 18.2 of MARPOL Annex VI calls on enforcement authorities to take into account all relevant circumstances and the evidence presented to determine what action to take if a ship is non-compliant, including not taking any action if the ship has demonstrated due diligence.
MEPC 73 was also told that PSC authorities have taken a pragmatic approach when enforcing emission control areas (ECAs) in North America and North Europe. Nevertheless, there are concerns about whether this attitude will translate to PSC authorities globally.
The meeting was reassured, however, that the IMO is in dialogue with MoUs on port State control and can encourage cooperation them to promote consistency in their approach.
Report by Unni Einemo: firstname.lastname@example.org