The IMO sulfur cap is fast approaching, and to help shipowners prepare, the International Chamber of Shipping has produced a guide to compliance using low sulfur fuels.
On January 1, 2020, the vast majority of the world's fleet will be required to bunker with low-sulfur fuel, and ICS secretary general Guy Platten suggests that the industry will need to prepare well in advance. “Shipping companies may need to start ordering compliant fuels from as early as the middle of 2019, and they are strongly recommended to commence developing implementation plans as soon as possible," Platten said in a statement.
ICS says that the rollout of the global cap will be much more complex than for the previous introduction of Emission Control Areas in Europe and the United States. The number of vessels affected by the switchover is much larger, and there are much larger quantities and more types of fuel involved. As of yet, there is no assurance of the worldwide availability, safety and compatibility of compliant fuels when the rule takes effect. This will be particularly important for vessels that operate on the tramp trades rather than regular rotations.
ICS expects that fuel incompatibility - which can create sludge formation, clogging and even loss of propulsion - will a become more serious issue after the rule takes effect. The components used for developing 0.5 percent sulfur blended fuel oils will be highly diverse, and two fully compliant fuel grades with the same sulfur content may not be compatible with each other.
Given the serious problems that incompatibility can cause, ICS advises keeping fuels from different sources segregated in separate tanks in order to minimize co-mingling in the fuel system. This could mean that modifications to the ship's fuel tanks and associated piping are required, and if so, shipowners will want to discuss their plans with their class society and their equipment suppliers early to identify and complete the scope of work. ICS advises considering extra tank volume for distillate fuel so that the ship has a fallback option if the cheaper 0.5 percent blends are not available.
According to ICS, all shipowners stand to benefit by making an "implementation plan" for their vessel and document their efforts to comply ahead of the deadline. With this accomplished, in the event that compliant fuel is not available or something goes wrong, they will be able to demonstrate good faith.