IBIA urges IMO Member Govts to apply amendments to MARPOL sulphur verification procedures

The International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA) has called for the governments of IMO Member States to adopt the MARPOL Annex VI sulphur verification procedure, prior to its entering into force on April 1st 2022.

The IBIA welcomed the adoption of amendments to MARPOL Annex VI at the 75th session of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 75), which met virtually from November 16th to 20th.

On the first day of MEPC 75 IBIA’s Director and IMO Representative, Unni Einemo, urged Member Governments to apply the amendments to MARPOL Annex VI to the verification procedure for a MARPOL Annex VI fuel oil sample prior to their entry into force to ensure a consistent approach to verifying sulphur limit compliance without delay, in line with Circular MEPC.1/Circ.882 issued by MEPC 74 in 2019.

The amendments are expected to enter into force 1 April 2022. However, IBIA said that it hoped that the reminder in the preamble regarding MEPC.1/Circ.882 might improve the chances of Member Governments applying them without delay. IBIA said that if they did so this would alleviate problems that the industry is experiencing today.

In the IBIA statement to MEPC 75 it said that the concept of test precision could be hard to grasp. “Many find it hard to understand that a test result of 0.53% sulphur does not conclusively prove that the fuel fails to meet the 0.50% sulphur limit”. For sulphur, the accuracy of the test method, known as 95% confidence, means that fuel oil with a true value of 0.50% sulphur may give a test result of up to 0.53% in a laboratory.

While these statistically sound test precision principles have been taken into account for verifying if samples of fuel oil in use, and samples of fuel oil carried for use on board a ship, meet the relevant sulphur limits of regulation 14, IBIA remained concerned that the same principles were not recognized for the MARPOL delivered sample.

These concerns were laid out in detail in MEPC 74/10/11 by IPIECA and IBIA.

IBIA said that it had always feared that the complexity in having different approaches to sulphur verification for MARPOL delivered samples versus in-use and on board samples would cause unintended confusion and conflict. “Experience so far suggests that this is indeed the case”.

It said that, since the 0.50% sulphur limit took effect, there had been cases of ships that had received a test result on their own bunker manifold inlet sample indicating a sulphur content above 0.50%, but not above 0.53%. IBIA said that it had heard from its members that some flag states had been advising ships to not use the fuel if the ship has a test result from its own sample indicating potential non-compliance, eg 0.51% to 0.53% sulphur. There were also fears that port State authorities would not take 95% confidence into account for in-use and on-board samples. This had created a lot of problems and uncertainty for the shipping and fuel oil supply industries, including demands to debunker fuels which have not been proven as non-compliant by the appropriate verification procedures stipulated under MARPOL Annex VI, said IBIA, noting that debunkering was not a trivial matter. “Apart from substantial financial costs, it also carries an environmental cost through extra CO2 emissions, and represents safety and environmental risks”, IBIA said.

IBIA said in its submission that, when it comes to sulphur verification under appendix VI of MARPOL Annex VI, having two different procedures would inevitably cause confusion in how the regulation was understood and applied.

“The signals are confusing. We all know the meaning of green and red traffic lights, but yellow seems to mean ‘keep going’ for one type of samples and ‘stop’ for another”, said IBIA.

IBIA recommended making the following principles clear. If an authority decided to test the MARPOL delivered sample, it would determine whether the fuel as delivered met the relevant requirement. If the fuel tested above 0.50% sulphur and as such had not met the requirement as delivered, it should nevertheless be considered as having met the requirement for the ship to use, or carry for use, unless the test result exceeded 0.53% sulphur. This would be in line with the MARPOL Annex VI sulphur verification procedure for in-use and onboard samples.