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We hear a lot about the uncertainties caused by the 2020 sulphur limit, but uncertainty is not new and we actually already know quite a lot

That may sound overly optimistic and simplistic, but think about it: isn’t it true that most of the things we speculate about are things that we can never really know about the future anyway? Bunker fuel prices, demand, availability and quality have always been subject to fluctuations and variability. Likewise, the extent of compliance with sulphur limits and how they will be enforced around the world have mostly been guesswork until after the event.

We know by now what needs to happen in the supply chain from refineries through to the actual bunker delivery to ship in order to be ready for the 2020 sulphur limit; we even have a pretty good idea of how much (or little) high sulphur fuel oil will be needed by ships with scrubbers globally. We know that many refiners and suppliers have their plans in place. We also know what needs to happen on ships with regard to tank cleaning and that they need to start buying 0.50% sulphur compliant fuels prior to 1 January 2020. What is needed now is clear signals and communication from all parties about their intentions to get the timing right.


Several products meeting the 0.50% sulphur limit have already been made, tested and trialled by ships and so far the experience has been positive. We should add that everyone involved in this have taken good care to ensure they prepared and handled these fuels properly. This is what we need from all participants going forward.


Sure, many things may not got to plan, but help is at hand. IBIA has contributed actively to provide clarity and help, in particular in two areas: the IMO’s regulatory framework and forthcoming industry guidance coming from the Joint Industry Project (JIP).


The goal of the JIP is to produce guidance on the safe supply and use of fuels meeting the 0.50% sulphur limit. The JIP is a collaboration involving industry experts from fuel testing agencies, the entire bunker supply chain, and end users. We hope this comprehensive industry guidance will be made publicly available in August. It covers the responsibilities of bunker suppliers and users and it is packed with practical advice on dealing with the anticipated types of max 0.50% sulphur fuels coming into the market, including the dreaded issue of potential incompatibility between different fuels. Actually, this is nothing new either, but because the variability of fuels is expected to be greater than it has been until now, best practices and diligence will become more important.

Since the previous issue of World Bunkering went to print, the 6th session of the IMO’s Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR 6) has worked out comprehensive guidelines relating to consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit, so that these can be sent to the 74th meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 74) in mid-May for any final tweaks and approval. This will be the last MEPC session before 2020 and I will be there as IBIA’s IMO representative to push for the best possible outcomes for our members. You can read more about this in my “IMO’s 2020 vision” article in this issue. I am confident that after MEPC 74, we will have a very good idea about many of the “what ifs” and uncertainties that 2020 is expected to bring, including how to deal with non-availability situations.


Of course, the 2020 sulphur cap isn’t the only thing that is important to the bunker industry, but it is a huge change and IBIA continues to see the need for us to provide clarity where confusion reigns and do our utmost to help guide the industry through this period – hence this will remain a top priority. We do help in other areas as well but we have limited resources. I am happy to report, however, that IBIA has had some input into the process as the Port of Rotterdam works toward implementing a bunker supplier licencing scheme, an effort that IBIA applauds and supports.


Unni Einemo
International Bunker Industry Association



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