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Low sulfur fuel on the agenda at IMO London lunch event

Written by Nick Blenkey

Stephen Hammond MPSEPTEMBER 11, 2013 — MARPOL Annex VI requirements for low sulfur fuel were the theme of remarks made yesterday by U.K. shipping minister Stephen Hammond MP (whose formal title is actually Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport) and IMO Secretary General Koji Sekimizu. The two were co-hosts at a lunch held at IMO headquarters against the background of the first ever London International Shipping Week.

Stephen Hammond MP

Mr. Sekimuzu led off by saying that his comments directly related to the theme of the London event, sustainable development and sustainability of shipping.
“As you know,” he said, “the revised Annex VI of the MARPOL Convention entered into force on July 1, 2010. It introduced a set of tighter emission limits for ships than the previous version, in order that air pollution from ships would be reduced, over time, which would, as a consequence, lead to improved human health and a cleaner, more sustainable environment.”
“Of course,” he noted, “it goes without saying that compliance with a requirement for ships to use low-sulfur fuel is largely dependent on sufficient quantities of such fuel being available, in the appropriate locations. To this end, MARPOL Annex VI requires parties to take all reasonable steps to promote the availability of fuel oils which comply with Annex VI and inform IMO of the availability of compliant fuel oils in its ports and terminals.
“MARPOL Annex VI also provides for a review to be completed, by 2018, of the availability of fuel oil to meet the requirement that the sulfur content of any fuel oil used on board ships shall not exceed 0.5 per cent on or after January 1, 2020.
“How and when this review will be conducted are clearly matters of great concern. In October last year, the 64th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee agreed to defer consideration of the draft methodology and related timetable for the review, and invited further submissions on the topic to be submitted to MEPC 66.
“No-one likes uncertainty, and there can be no doubt that agreeing a timescale for the review and a speedy and firm decision on the global application of the 0.5 per cent sulfur limit would benefit all interested parties. Annex VI stipulates that the review must be completed by 2018, but there is nothing to say that it cannot be completed earlier. Indeed, there is a strong argument that early completion of the review of the availability of low sulfur fuel will give more time for all concerned, including the refinery industry, to take the necessary action and react in time to meet the requirements if such a need is identified.
“I stated at the Nor Shipping this year that IMO is the goal setter and the goal setter should not easily move the goal post once set, since that will damage the credibility of IMO and the confidence in industry players on regulations. IMO has set a goal for sulfur regulations in 2008 and the current global target is set for 2020. It is important for IMO to act now to have a clear picture on the availability of the required quantity of the low-sulfur fuel as soon as possible, so that we can take appropriate action.
As Mr. Hammond is about to tell you, the United Kingdom is willing to take a lead on this issue and will be making a submission to the next MEPC in this regard. It will, of course, be for the Members of IMO to decide how they wish to proceed with it.
“For my part, I believe it is incumbent upon all concerned to do whatever they can to ensure that the important environmental and health benefits will flow from the implementation of the new rules. I have already been calling for IMO Member State governments to take a pro-active approach with the oil refinery and supply industries under their control to ensure the requirements that they adopted, by consensus, can be met, and I will continue to do so in speeches and public appearances, whenever I can.
“Implementing the global 0.5% sulfur limit will be a challenge, and it is important that it is done properly taking into account the sustainability of shipping. I am pleased that the United Kingdom is willing to take the lead on this issue and I will now ask Stephen Hammond to say more about this initiative.”

In his response, Mr. Hammond said that the review should start at the earliest realistic date consistent with adequate information being practically available, which the U.K. considers to be January 2015:

“Reaching agreement on the new sulfur limits in 2008 was a notable achievement and as a consequence enhanced the reputation of the IMO,” he said. “Now it is vital to agree the timing of this review.

“Uncertainty around dates is likely to delay crucial investment decisions and industry needs a clear steer. All sectors of the shipping and petro-chemical industry would be better able to plan, control costs and manage the transition once we have a date for the review.”

He said that the U.K. plans to submit a paper on the subject for the consideration of the next session of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee next spring.

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