US pilot suggests good supplier compliance with ECA sulphur limit

US pilot suggests good supplier compliance with ECA sulphur limit

IBIA has obtained more detail about a pilot voluntary fuel sampling programme undertaken in the US during March this year after observing some inconsistencies in how its stated purpose and outcome was reported.

Industry compliance with the 0.10% sulphur requirement in the North American emissions control area (ECA) appears to be good both with regards to ships and bunker suppliers, according tests of fuel samples obtained during the pilot.

A public blog post by Rear Admiral Paul F. Thomas of the US Coast Guard on June 21 said the voluntary fuel sampling and testing pilot was “initiated in response to industry concern that bunker suppliers are not being held accountable for the accuracy of the bunker delivery notes (BDNs) and that these suppliers should be part of the United States’ enforcement effort”.

The results suggested that the vast majority of samples tested – two each from 37 vessels taken at the fuel line near the engine and at the fuel service or day tank – met the ECA sulphur limit. The only clear breach – a fuel tank sample testing at 0.387% sulphur – was deemed to be unrepresentative of the fuel that the vessel had received and was burning because the sample from the fuel line tested below 0.10% sulphur.

Nine of the 74 samples, from six of the 37 vessels, were reported have tested above 0.10% sulphur, with eight of them ranging from 1.101% to 0.155% sulphur, according to the USCG blog. The associated BDNs all stated sulphur content at 0.10% or less.

Vessels cannot comply with sulphur limits unless they receive compliant fuel, and there have been widespread calls from the shipping community and from some member states at the International Maritime Organization for more focus on suppliers to bear responsibility for MARPOL compliance.

But by testing fuel from a vessel’s service tank or the fuel line, the few samples in the US pilot that tested above 0.10% sulphur could have been non-compliant because of contamination within the vessel’s own fuel system. The only way port state control officers (PSCO) can check if the sulphur content on the BDN corresponds with that of the fuel supplied is to test the MARPOL sample, which should be representative of what was delivered to the vessel.

Indeed, the examiners in the US pilot concluded that the samples testing above 0.10% sulphur could be due to contamination of the sample due to the “position of the drain cocks on fuel tanks”.

After being contacted by IBIA about why only vessel samples were tested, if the purpose was to check the accuracy of BDNs, a USCG official said the fuel sampling program was not aimed solely at BDN compliance, but also at vessel compliance. The Coast Guard “has no intention” of testing samples taken at delivery “unless clear grounds exist” that the delivered fuel did not comply with ECA requirements, he explained.

IBIA also asked what US authorities would and/or could do if the results had indicated that BDNs were not accurate and suggesting suppliers have delivered non-compliant fuel, as part of US enforcement efforts. The USCG official said that if testing indicated a BDN issued by a US-based supplier was not accurate, the information would be turned over to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “who would take action”. If testing indicated a BDN issued in another country was not accurate, the USCG official said “we would turn this information over to the EPA but it isn’t clear what, if any action, they could take. However, in our Marine Safety Information Bulletin 03-16, the Coast Guard indicated that it may notify the Administration of the coastal state from where the fuel was purchased for non-compliant samples.” 

The fuel analysis was conducted by the US EPA, so the USCG was not able to comment on the test precision referred to in the blog post by Rear Admiral Paul F. Thomas, which said “nearly all” the samples that tested within a 0.101% to a 0.155% range “were within a statistical confidence level that could possibly be the result of error in the analysis itself”.

The test precision for sulphur, if using ISO 8754, would consider up to and including 0.11% as meeting a 0.10% sulphur limit based on a single test result.

The EPA does, however, allow ECA enforcement teams to use its discretion on whether to penalise ships if the sulphur content for the fuel in use tests between 0.10% and 0.15% sulphur. The upper single test result precision level for 0.15% sulphur, if testing in accordance with ISO 8754, would be 0.1524% so this might explain why US authorities considered that “nearly all” the samples that tested within a 0.101% to 0.155% range “were within a statistical confidence level.”

It is worth noting that the vessels providing voluntary samples in this pilot were promised there would be no sanctions if the tests showed non-compliance. Even so, 10 of the 47 vessels the USCG requested samples from declined to provide them.

While the pilot, undertaken during March in Los Angeles/Long Beach and Baltimore, showed that vessel compliance and BDN accuracy “is generally satisfactory,” the USCG and EPA “may conduct future operations to continue to verify” that ECA requirements are being met, Rear Admiral Paul F. Thomas said. “We remain committed to ensuring compliance with MARPOL Annex VI, and we likewise encourage vessel operators to conduct their own testing for this purpose.”

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