Many issues remain unresolved following last week’s intersessional working group (ISWG) meeting at the IMO to develop guidelines to support the consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur from 1 January 2020.
The meeting made good progress on planning and preparatory issues, having developed a ship implementation plan and informative annexes that will be sent to the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 73) in October this year for approval.
The ISWG, under the auspices of the Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR), also developed draft text for regulatory amendments under MARPOL Annex VI relating to sulphur testing and verification issues. The aim is for these to be finalised at PPR 6 in February next year before sending them to MEPC for approval and adoption. PPR cannot make decisions; all the work undertaken by PPR needs to be formally approved by MEPC, but its deliberations give a good indication on the direction of travel.
Discussions on a number of agenda items at last week’s meeting were left with unresolved issues that still need to be addressed.
One of these was the question of the exact nature of guidance to be provided to port State control (PSC) in enforcing MARPOL Annex VI sulphur limits. While some want to emphasise the need for PSC to be pragmatic and understanding of the problems faced by ships in meeting the 0.50% sulphur limit, especially during the first few months of 2020, others are concerned that such guidance could send the wrong signal.
Discussions on exactly what should be in a standard reporting format for fuel oil non-availability to be developed by IMO, generally referred to as a FONAR (fuel oil non-availability report) were inconclusive and more work will be required by PPR to finalise it.
Even more difficult was the discussion on how PSC should deal with reports of fuel-oil non-availability. For example, what happens to any remaining non-compliant fuel left onboard after a ship, having provided a FONAR, arrives at a port where compliant fuel is available? While many believe the ship should be required to debunker, the point was raised that not all ports will provide discharge facilities for debunkered fuel.
And if the ship has non-compliant fuel onboard, but the port it arrives at does not allow it to debunker, what happens to the ship if this is after the carriage ban on non-compliant fuel enters into force? IBIA also suggested to the meeting that the situation where a ship discovers through fuel testing, after leaving port, that the fuel it has lifted fails to meet the limit as stated on the bunker delivery note, might be an issue to cover in a FONAR as well, because the ship has unexpectedly and despite its best efforts found itself short of compliant fuel to complete its voyage.
These issues will be further discussed at PPR 6 in February 2019, where they need to be finalised before being sent to MEPC 74 in May 2019 for approval. MEPC 74 will be the last chance to approve IMO guidelines for consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit before it enters into force on 1 January, 2020.