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IMO sets 2020 date for ships to comply with low sulphur fuel oil requirement

As per the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) decision, 1st January 2020 has been set as the implementation date for a significant reduction in the sulphur content of the fuel oil used by ships. The decision was taken during the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), meeting for its 70th session in London.

Accordingly, under the new global cap, ships will have to use fuel oil on board with a sulphur content of no more than 0.50% m/m, as opposed to the 3.50% m/m global limit currently in place. Use in main and auxiliary engines and boilers is also included in the interpretation of “fuel oil used on board”, while exemptions will be provided for situations involving the safety of the ship or saving life at sea, or if a ship or its equipment is damaged.

Ships are advised to use low-sulphur compliant fuel oil, gas or methadol, as alternatives, in order to meet the new low standard requirement. Moreover, ships may meet the emission requirements by using approved equivalent methods, such as exhaust gas cleaning systems or “scrubbers”, since these “clean” the emissions before they are released into the atmosphere. Such equivalent arrangement though must firstly be approved by the ship’s Flag State Administration.

It is noted that the limits in Sulphur Oxides Emission Control Areas (ECAS)[1] established by IMO, which since 1 January 2015 has been 0.10% m/m, will not be affected by the new global cap.

The decision of the IMO for such reduction in sulphur fuel oil requirement is welcome as a significant step towards the environment and human health. As provided by the IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim “the reductions in sulphur oxide emissions resulting from the lower global sulphur cap are expected to have a significant beneficial impact on the environment and on human health, particularly that of people living in port cities and coastal communities, beyond the existing emission control areas”.

[1] ECAs established under MARPOL Annex VI for SOx are: the Baltic Sea area; the North Sea area; the North American area (covering designated coastal areas off the United States and Canada); and the United States Caribbean Sea area (around Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands).