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March 3, 2010

INTERTANKO protests Trieste ruling on sulfur

INTERTANKO, the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, says that the Port of Trieste , Italy,has advised that, with effect from March3, 2010, vessels using fuels with a sulfur content exceeding 0.10% by mass (in contravention of EU Directive 2005/33/EC) will be prosecuted with fine of between Euros 15,000 and 150,000 (usually 30,000 for the first offense). Exemption to the law will not be granted anymore and all eventual special authorizations issued in the past are cancelled, it states.

INTERTANKO says this means that ship and port safety may be sacrificed purely in order to generate local harbor funds.

Trieste Port does go on to say that a reduction of the fine may be requested according to the European Recommendation (2009/1020/EU of 21.12.2009) within 30 days from the notification of fine, showing evidence of steps taken by ship operator, class and boiler manufacturer to complete work enabling the vessel to burn fuel according to the EU Directive.

However once a fine reduction application has been submitted, Trieste Port points out that the supporting documents are subject to evaluation by the officer on duty; if this evidence is considered insufficient to merit a reduction of the fine to the minimum, then the fine could rise to the maximum set by law - Euros 150,000.

Moreover, if a vessel which has been fined calls Trieste again without being in compliance with the EU Directive in question, the vessel, its owner/operator and its master will be banned from entering all Italian ports.

Ships which are not yet modified to use 0.1% sulfur MGO, and which do not receive permission to consume low sulfur HFO in their boilers, have three possible courses of action, all of which, says INTERTANKO, "penalize the owner/operator for headlining safety." These options are:

either they may choose to use 0.1% sulfur MGO and do their outmost to manage the associated risks;

or they may emphasize safety and use low sulfur HFO in their boilers but face prosecution and fines;

or they may simply refuse to call at Trieste until modifications have been completed.

For some ships, says, INTERTANKO, a switch from HFO to MGO in the boilers without having performed the necessary modifications is considered significantly less safe than the alternative of using low sulfur HFO. Boiler manufacturers and class have explicitly rejected any liability for the consumption of MGO in the boilers in cases where they have indicated that there is a need for modification.

"Many of these modifications have not yet been completed due to the slow response from the boiler manufacturers," says INTERTANKO. "This is something that is out of the control of shipowners and operators, many of whom initiated the modifications process almost a year ago after having been misled by earlier advice from boiler manufacturers that their boilers work safely on distillate fuels - advice that has since been retracted."

INTERTANKO says that until the beginning of 2009, all boiler manufacturers had the same answer - "No problem, our systems can safely work with low sulfur distillates". The same (mis)information was also given to regulators, which prevented the EU from seeing the need to call a technical meeting.

INTERTANKO and other shipowner associations had been asking for a technical meeting since 2003, with the request repeated in 2006 and 2008. Then at the beginning of 2009, ship operators started to ask the boiler manufacturers to guarantee their systems as fit for the purpose of safe compliance with this provision - and things started to change. In the end the technical meeting only took place in October 2009 just months before the EU Regulation on 0.1% sulfur fuels at berth entered into force on January 1, 2010.

The safe operation of ships, and the safety of their crews and cargoes, should not be put at risk by the need to generate cash for port authorities, says INTERTANKO It says it "trusts that information supplied by ships with the modification process underway will be considered in the light of the EC Recommendation which recognizes that there may be operational problems and safety risks associated with the use of the required fuels in ships that have not undergone technical adaptations, and which invites EU Member States to consider the existence of detailed evidence of the steps taken by ships to ensure safe compliance with the Directive."

INTERTANKO says it has written the Trieste Harbor Master Office inviting it to reconsider its strict and unexpected decision.


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