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Comprehensive IMO guidelines and regulatory amendments for consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit have been finalised. Industry guidance is also ready. IBIA’s Unni Einemo highlights areas of key interest to the bunker industry

The 74th session of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 74) which met in May 2019 had a big and urgent task to complete. This was the final MEPC meeting prior to 2020, hence the last chance to issue guidelines to assist industry and Administrations to effectively and uniformly implement the 0.50% sulphur limit.

Much of the work was already done at the IMO’s Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR 6) in February, which enabled us to write a comprehensive preview of the IMO’s 2020 package of guidelines in the previous issue of World Bunkering, so we won’t repeat all that. You can find lots of informative articles about the IMO guidelines on IBIA’s website. We will, however, bring you up to date on elements that were not already clear after PPR 6 and other recent developments in the IMO’s work relating to marine fuels.


FONARs and dealing with non-compliant fuels
MEPC 74 adopted a standard Fuel Oil Non-Availability Report (FONAR) format. The FONAR, which can be found as an appendix to “The 2019 Guidelines for consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit under MARPOL Annex VI” requires a ship to provide detailed documentation to prove it could not obtain fuel oil meeting the relevant MARPOL Annex VI sulphur limits (0.10% or 0.50%) despite best efforts. The FONAR is a mechanism for the ship to self-report non-compliance due to non-availability, and Port State control (PSC) is expected to take a FONAR into account as a mitigating circumstance and may refrain from penalising the ship. MEPC 74 also adopted guidelines for how FONARs should be investigated by authorities to prevent abuse.


One issue that MEPC 74 had to find a solution to was what advice to give to Member States, and in particular PSC, on how to deal with any bunkers exceeding the 0.50% sulphur limit remaining on board a ship when the carriage ban takes effect on March 1, 2020. IBIA was a co-sponsor with Australia and the US on a practical proposal, MEPC 74/10/7, on how to manage any non-compliant fuel oil remaining onboard when arriving at the next port of call after submitting a FONAR. Ships will typically have some fuel left due to taking a safety margin when bunkering. We proposed a hierarchy of options, starting with debunkering, but if debunkering could not be facilitated, we proposed that relevant authorities may agree to allow the ship to burn the remaining non-compliant fuel on the high seas on the way to its next port of call. India had submitted a similar proposal, MEPC 74/10/1.Both documents proposed this as a contingency measure with a clear expiry date, recognising that non-availability situations may occur quite frequently in the first 6-12 months after the global 0.50% sulphur limit takes effect; and that debunkering is a complex operation which also requires the ability to provide appropriate ship or shore-based facilities for receiving such fuels. Both proposals received significant support, but the majority of member states that spoke would not approve a proposal that allowed non-compliant fuel remaining on board after a FONAR to be consumed at sea, even if only in very specific circumstances and for a limited period. Many countries insisted that debunkering is the only acceptable option.

What came out of MEPC 74 was “Guidance for port State control on contingency measures for addressing non-compliant fuel oil” applicable to all non-compliant fuel, regardless of how it came to be on the ship. It could be due to a non-availability situation, but it could also be due to an ‘off-spec’ where the actual sulphur content is not in line with that stated on the bunker delivery note (BDN). IBIA pointed out during development of this guidance that a ship could also have fuel exceeding 0.50% sulphur in its tanks due to insufficient tank cleaning, which means compliant fuel could be contaminated by high sulphur fuel oil residues in its fuel system.


The guidance on contingency measures describes certain steps starting with debunkering “if practicable and available” and after that “managing the non-compliant fuel oil in accordance with a method acceptable to the Port state” and, finally, cleaning and/or flushing through tanks to get rid of any remaining residues after all the non-compliant fuel oil has been completely used or discharged.

Another area MEPC 74 needed to clarify was advice on the situation where a ship has a BDN that says the fuel is compliant, but the ship’s own test programme results suggest it is not. This was addressed by adding a paragraph in the “2019 Guidelines for port State control under the revised MARPOL Annex VI” adopted by MEPC 74, updating the 2009 guidelines. The text states that if “the master has independent test results of the fuel oil sample taken by the ship during the bunkering which indicates non-compliance, the master may have documented that through a Notification to the ship’s flag Administration with copies to the competent authority of the relevant port of destination, the Administration under whose jurisdiction the bunker deliverer is located and to the bunker deliverer.” There is no instruction, however, on how PSC might deal with this situation, but the intention is to make it clear that the ship may have non-compliant fuel through no fault of its own, which – if proven – should be
a mitigating circumstance.

Changes to sulphur verification procedures under MARPOL Annex VI
MEPC 74 approved amendments to MARPOL Annex VI related to verification procedures to determine whether the fuel oil delivered to, in-use or carried for use on board a ship is in accordance with the applicable sulphur limit. Assuming the amendments are formally adopted at MEPC 75 in early April next year, they would only enter into force in the second half of 2021. The IMO has therefore issued a circular, MEPC.1/Circ.882, inviting Member Governments to apply the approved amendments to appendix VI of MARPOL Annex VI related to the verification procedure for a MARPOL Annex VI fuel oil sample in advance of their entry into force in order to “ensure a consistent approach to verifying the sulphur limit of the fuel oil delivered to, in-use or carried for use on board a ship until the entry into force of the approved amendments.”


Apart from amendments to appendix VI, the circular also draws attention to other relevant amendments, including new definitions added to Regulation 2 of MARPOL Annex VI.


One of these definitions is for “Sulphur content of fuel oil”, linking it to the ISO 8754: 2003 test method. This was originally proposed to the IMO by IBIA to ensure consistency in the testing and reporting protocol for sulphur across all jurisdictions. The test method is also referenced in the “2019 Guidelines on consistent implementation of 0.50% sulphur limit under MARPOL Annex VI” following a proposal co-sponsored by IBIA and member states.


New definitions under regulation 2 also include explanations of the difference between a MARPOL delivered sample, in-use sample and on board sample, all of which can be used by relevant authorities to test for compliance with sulphur limit. Regulation 14 has also been amended with additional paragraphs about obtaining in-use and on board fuel oil samples for sulphur verification by the competent authorities. In this context, MEPC 74 also approved revisions to guidelines for obtaining representative in-use samples for sulphur verification. Guidelines for taking on board samples of fuel oil intended for use by the ship (e.g. from bunker tanks) have yet to be developed but could be developed and approved during 2020.


These three types of samples are not treated the same when it comes to the amended sulphur verification procedures in appendix VI to MARPOL Annex VI. Prior to the recently approved amendments, appendix VI referred only to the representative fuel oil sample (the “MARPOL sample”) to verify the sulphur content of the fuel oil supplied to a ship. This is now defined as the MARPOL delivered sample.


The current procedure under appendix VI for verification of the MARPOL sample requires the average of two test results from a single laboratory to test at or below the applicable sulphur limit to be deemed compliant. If it exceeds the limit + 0.59R (the 95% confidence limit for precision of the test method) it will be deemed non-compliant, but if it is between the limit and the limit +0.59R the sample should be sent for analysis at a second laboratory for a further two test results. The average of all four test results must meet the limit.


The amended appendix VI relies on the average of two tests at a single laboratory, and has two different procedures. The procedures are very detailed but in summary, the key points are as follows:


Sulphur verification procedure for MARPOL delivered sample: the average of two test results from one laboratory must be at or below the applicable limit, e.g. 0.10% or 0.50% sulphur, to be considered to have met the requirement of the regulation. This means that the 95% confidence, or 0.59R (where R is the reproducibility of the test method) does not apply to the MARPOL delivered samples.


Sulphur verification procedure for in-use and onboard samples: 95% confidence will apply, meaning an average test result up to the limit +0.59R will be considered to have met the regulatory requirement. This means a test up to 0.11% against the 0.10% sulphur limit and up to 0.53% against the 0.50% sulphur limit will be considered to have met the requirement.


IBIA is happy to see that test precision, or 95% confidence, has been taken into account for in-use and on board samples from ships. IBIA has been campaigning for years to ensure these principles are recognised so as not to risk penalising ships for exceeding sulphur limits based on test results that are marginally above the
limit, but within the Reproducibility of the test method.


Along with IPIECA, IBIA had asked for MEPC 74 to apply the same principle to the MARPOL delivered sample. If that could not be agreed, we proposed to at least retain the use of a second laboratory if the result from the first laboratory was above the limit but within 95% confidence to safeguard against the outcome being unfairly biased. This is what 0.59R recognises; that two laboratories testing the same sample may have slightly different results. Our reasons were outlined in MEPC 74/10/11 and while the proposal was extensively discussed and gained significant support, a small majority was firmly opposed to it.


We did, however, manage to get a change to the language regarding the outcome of the testing done in the laboratory. In the draft amendments, it said: “The results obtained from this verification procedure are final.” After long discussions at the working group that was tasked with finalising the amendments to MARPOL Annex VI, this was adjusted to “The final results obtained from this verification procedure shall be evaluated by the competent authority.” This slight adjustment to the text allows for the authority to evaluate if the test result should be taken at face value as a pass/fail. If there is doubt, the authority could decide to send the sample to a second laboratory for further verification.


There is a potential need for developing additional guidance on how to conduct this evaluation in a uniform and consistent way. IBIA will likely continue to cooperate with IPIECA and other interested parties on formulating such guidance.


Scrubber guidelines
A review of the 2015 Guidelines on Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (EGCS) is underway, but with all the controversy surrounding washwater discharges into the sea, more time will be needed to discuss the criteria. However, elements relating to malfunction of the EGCS system or a monitoring instrument were approved by MEPC 74 in May. There was significant discussion around this subject prior to approval of official IMO guidance with the main sentiment being that ships with scrubbers must not be allowed to use high sulphur fuel for an extended period if the scrubber isn’t functioning properly. The message is quite simple: if the ship is unable to fix the malfunction or accidental breakdown within an hour, it should switch to compliant fuel. If the ship doesn’t have sufficient compliant fuel onboard to cover the system downtime and has to use high sulphur fuel, it will go on record as non-compliance.


In light of the concerns raised regarding discharges from scrubber systems, with a number of ports having banned the use of open loop scrubbers, MEPC 74 agreed to commit to an investigation of the environmental impacts of EGCS liquid effluents by putting a new item on the agenda called “Evaluation and harmonization of rules and guidance on the discharge of liquid effluents from EGCS into waters, including conditions and areas”. In this context, it was agreed that proper scientific assessment is desirable so that decisions are based on evidence. IMO Member States and other interested parties have been asked to provide funding so that GESAMP, a group of independent scientific experts that provides advice to the UN system on scientific aspects of marine environmental protection, can establish a task team to assess the available evidence relating to the environmental impact of discharges of exhaust gas cleaning system effluent.


Increasing oversight over bunker suppliers

Concerns about poor fuel quality causing a safety risk for ships have been growing louder and louder. The topic has been discussed at the IMO for year, because ships occasionally experience severe fuel-related problems. Recently, there have been fears about the quality and composition of blends to meet the 0.50% sulphur limit , as these will likely be more variable in nature than current fuel oil blends. These concerns have resulted in a raft of new IMO guidance documents encouraging Member States to be more proactive in their oversight over suppliers operating under their jurisdiction.


These measures are found in a variety of guidance documents, generally encouraging Member States to take action “as appropriate” against fuel oil suppliers that have failed to meet the MARPOL Annex VI regulation with regards to documentation, MARPOL samples, or non-compliant fuel. They are also told to urge fuel oil suppliers to take into account best practice guidance developed by the IMO for fuel oil suppliers and fuel oil purchasers/users for assuring the quality of fuel oil delivered to and used ships.

MEPC 74 finished the third set of best practice guidance, namely “Guidance for best practice for Member State/coastal State” which focuses on what they can do to ensure MARPOL Annex VI is effectively implemented and enforced. It is mainly dealing with how they can promote availability of compliant fuel oil and measures to ensure fuel oil suppliers are providing fuels of appropriate quality. It concludes by saying that “Member States or other relevant authorities desiring to do so may decide to establish or promote a licencing scheme for bunker suppliers.” MEPC 74 did not have time to consider an example of what such a licencing scheme might look like provided to the meeting by shipping organisations, but it will come up for discussion again early next year at PPR 7.


MSC 101 gets involved
A new item has been added to the agenda of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee after lengthy discussions at the 100th meeting at the end of 2018 agreed that concerns about fuel safety should be handled by MSC, separating the subject from discussions around the implementation of the new 0.50% sulphur limit under MARPOL Annex VI. At the 101st session in June this year, the new agenda item, “Development of further measures to enhance the safety of ships relating to
the use of fuel oil” was discussed for the first time. IBIA took part in the working group tasked with driving this new agenda item forward.


One of the outcomes was the adoption of a resolution focusing on ways to enhance the adherence to the 60°C minimum flashpoint limit for marine fuels specified in SOLAS regulation II-2/4.2.1. The onus of the message contained in “Interim recommendations to enhance the safety of ships relating to the use of oil fuel (MSC.465(101))“, is on bringing suppliers into line. It calls for all confirmed cases where suppliers delivered oil fuel failing to meet the 60°C minimum flashpoint limit to be reported to the IMO, and for Member States to “take action as appropriate” against suppliers when such cases have been confirmed.


MSC.465(101) also calls for reporting to the IMO of “confirmed cases where oil fuel suppliers had delivered fuel that jeopardized the safety of ships or personnel; or adversely affected the performance of the machinery.”


MSC 101 also endorsed an action plan to further consider measures relating to safeguard ships against fuels that fail to meet the flashpoint limit, and established a Correspondence Group on Oil Fuel Safety to further consider the development of mandatory requirements, including putting more onus on the supplier around the documentation. During the meeting, there were calls from some parties to require the supplier to declare the actual flashpoint of the product supplied on the BDN, akin to what’s required for sulphur under MARPOL Annex VI. IBIA told MSC 101 that suppliers are already warranting the flashpoint via MSDS, which is a SOLAS requirement, and contractually by selling the fuel to ISO 8217 standards. IBIA was also among those explaining that there is no need to require the actual flashpoint to be reported. IBIA will participate in the Correspondence Group working on this item.


Joint Industry guidance for 0.50%S marine fuel
As this issue of World Bunkering was going to press, the outcome of a Joint Industry Project (JIP) to provide stakeholders with factual, practical advice to safely manage all aspects of marine fuels meeting the 0.50% sulphur limit was also set to go to press. The JIP had input from a range of experts and organisations in shipping, refining, supply and fuel testing and has produced a 60-page “Joint Industry Guidance: The supply and use of 0.50%-sulphur marine fuel” which will be made freely available.


The document highlights the responsibilities of fuel suppliers and users to prevent problems, in particular the challenges around managing potential incompatibility between different batches of fuel.


IBIA took part in the JIP and we can tell you that it wasn’t easy to get all stakeholders to agree on exactly what should, and what should not, be in the Guidance. The process made us all very aware of where the pinch-points and potential conflicts of interest are, and also where it will be very challenging to implement the advice in practice. However, much like the IMO, consensus can rarely be achieved unless all parties are willing to compromise. Solid technical advice has been provided by the guidance which, if followed, should safeguard the industry from mishaps with the supply, management and use of compliant marine fuels as we head into the new low-sulphur era.


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Deputy Editor: Unni Einemo - unni@ibia.net
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