MSC finalises work on joint SOLAS/MARPOL sampling guidelines

The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) has approved draft MSC-MEPC guidelines for drawing a statutory sample of oil-based fuels delivered for use on board ships. The sample is only to be used by relevant authorities to check for compliance with relevant flashpoint and/or sulphur limits under SOLAS chapter II-2 and MARPOL Annex VI.

The purpose of the joint SOLAS/MARPOL sampling guidelines is to create a single sampling process for both conventions. The guidelines were developed in the MSC correspondence group (CG) on fuel oil safety, using resolution MEPC.176(58) – the 2009 sampling guidelines for the delivered MARPOL sample – as the base document. The CG, which IBIA took active part in, considered which changes and additions were needed to make the guidelines fit for collecting a joint sample that can be used to determine either flashpoint, or sulphur, or both.

After carefully studying the draft from the CG that was sent to MSC for approval, IBIA proposed some additional changes.

In one document, MSC 107/6/5, we put forward a carefully crafted argument for taking into account safety, practicality and alignment with established industry practice by showing more flexibility on the sampling location. The 2009 MARPOL sampling guidelines in resolution MEPC.176(58) state that the sample should be drawn at the bunker manifold of the receiving ship. IBIA argued that the bunker tanker outlet manifold would often be a more logical sampling location and that bunker tanker crew have greater experience in drawing samples, hence the sampling location should be agreed in accordance with local conditions and regulations.

IBIA’s proposal received some support that the sampling location should allow enough flexibility, and in particular that weather conditions, physical limitations and safety of personnel during the sampling process should be taken into account. However, a majority of those that spoke did not want to reopen the discussion and wanted to retain the original provision regarding the sampling location. IBIA’s Director and IMO Representative Unni Einemo expressed disappointment that the IMO would not allow the same flexibility regarding sampling location as that provided in ISO 13739:2020, procedures for the transfer of petroleum products to ships, and that the professionalism of the bunker industry was not fully taken into account.

The final draft MSC-MEPC guidelines from MSC 107 state that the primary sample should be drawn at the bunker manifold of the receiving ship, witnessed by representatives for the receiving ship and supplier or by a surveyor acting on their behalf. It does, however, state that “Samples should be taken in a safe manner under all circumstances.”

IBIA also proposed modifications to the draft MSC-MEPC sampling guidelines to reflect practical considerations regarding sample integrity and sample bottle size in MSC 107/6/3. Here, MSC delegates chose to ignore our advice that there was not need to increase the sample size from 400 ml, but took onboard our proposal to include text about avoiding contamination of the sample with low flashpoint solvents used to clean the sampling equipment.

The draft guidelines now call for a minimum sample size of 600 ml. A section on sampling and sample integrity advises that attention should be given to “the cleanliness and dryness of the sampler and the primary sample container prior to use,” with the addition proposed by IBIA that “there should be no traces of low-flashpoint solvents used to clean the equipment as this can contaminate the sample.”

IBIA was also instrumental in drafting a new section of the draft guidelines on “Procedures and documentation following testing of retained sample”, bearing in mind that the ship’s statutory sample may be required for flashpoint testing shortly after delivery. The remaining sample would then need to be resealed to be available in the event a relevant authority later wants to test the sample for sulphur.

The draft joint MSC-MEPC circular on the sampling guidelines approved at MSC 107 in early June 2023 is subject to concurrent approval by the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC). IBIA understands that it will be presented to MEPC 81 in the spring of 2024 for approval.

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