The new lower 0.50% limit on sulphur in ships’ fuel oil will be in force from 1 January 2020, under IMO’s MARPOL treaty, with benefits for the environment and human health. This was the message delivered to the Asia Pacific Petroleum Conference (APPEC) (24-26 September) by IMO’s Edmund Hughes. The new limit will be applicable globally – while in designated emission control areas (ECAS) the limit will remain even lower, at 0.10%.

The 1 January 2020 implementation date was confirmed by IMO in October 2016, giving certainty to refineries, bunkering and shipping sectors. IMO has been working with Member States and the industry to support implementation of the new limit. The upcoming IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 73) (22-26 October) is expected to approve ship implementation planning guidance as well as best practice guides for Member States/coastal States and for fuel oil suppliers.
The MEPC is also expected to adopt a complementary MARPOL amendment aimed at supporting implementation of the 1 January 2020 0.50% limit. This amendment will prohibit the carriage of non-compliant fuel oil – unless the ship has an exhaust gas cleaning system (“scrubber”) fitted.

Most ships are expected to utilize new blends of fuel oil which will be produced to meet the 0.50% limit on sulphur in fuel oil. Currently, the maximum sulphur limit in fuel oil is 3.50% globally (and 0.10 % in the four ECAS: 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)).

The sulphur regulation also allows for ships to meet the requirement by alternative means, such as scrubbers, which allows the ship to continue using high sulphur fuel oil as the scrubber “cleans” the emission on the ship.