New twists in IMO fuel quality debate opens door to industry input

New twists in IMO fuel quality debate opens door to industry input

The long-running debate at the International Maritime Organization on how to ensure ships receive fuels that meet sulphur regulations and are safe to use has taken a surprising turn, creating an opportunity for IBIA and its members to take an even more active part in driving the issue forward.

Last week’s meeting of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 69) discussed the report from a correspondence group (CG) tasked with developing draft guidance on best practice for assuring the quality of fuel oil delivered for use on board ships. It also continued to examine the adequacy of the current legal framework in MARPOL Annex VI.

Sufficiency of legal framework in Annex VI

The CG, and last week’s MEPC meeting, remained divided on whether the current legal framework in MARPOL Annex VI is sufficient.

On the one hand, there are those that argue it clearly isn’t, evidenced by supply of non-compliant and/or contaminated fuels, and say there needs to be more robust oversight over the distribution and quality of marine fuel before it is supplied to ships. They feel the onus of compliance rests too heavily with the ship and that the regulation should ensure more responsibility is put on suppliers.

On the other hand are those saying the supply of fuel to ship is a commercial activity that should be handled under contract law and needs no further regulations. They also argue that there are limits to the extent IMO can regulate the business activities of the supply side as they are domestic arrangements over which IMO holds no sway.

MEPC 69 in the end decided not to pursue the matter further, advising instead that member states that believe there are shortcomings may put forward specific proposals to amend Annex VI.

Best practice guidelines

The CG on fuel oil quality, which IBIA played an active part in, prepared aspects of possible draft guidance on best practice for fuel oil providers, fuel oil purchaser/user, and Member State/Coastal State.

Surprisingly, although improved control of the quality of fuel prior to supply to ship was always the crux of the issue, the IMO’s work on developing voluntary guidance for bunker suppliers will now be paused.

Instead, the Committee agreed that IMO will encourage the supply industry to develop such guidelines and present them to MEPC in due course, taking into account proposed elements to be included in guidelines already put forward by the CG.

The CG on fuel oil quality will continue its work, but has only been instructed to carry on developing guidelines for the fuel oil purchaser/user, and Member State/Coastal State, for submission to MEPC 71 in 2017. The CG will take into account aspects already developed, as well as various concerns raised during MEPC 69, in particular to what extent it is reasonable to ask the purchaser to know about a supplier’s track record, and with regards to States, ensure that any ‘best practice’ document does not go beyond the obligations of MARPOL Annex VI.

IBIA believes that effective management of fuel quality requires good understanding and practice from all sides: suppliers, buyers and authorities, and will continue to add input to the CG.

The Maritime Safety Committee, which will meet in May, will be advised of the outcome. MSC also has a vested interest in the subject due to the risks aspect if fuel is found to cause severe operational problems.

IBIA would like to grasp this opportunity to work with the supply industry in developing “best practice” guidelines for bunker suppliers, drawing on work in this area already provided by experts within organisations like ISO and CIMAC, and use our observer status at the IMO to coordinate efforts with interested parties and inform MEPC accordingly.

We believe our members have much to contribute to the debate and Unni Einemo will shortly be in touch with you to solicit your ideas.
She can be reached on

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