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IMO warned on safety concerns linked to sulphur limit

Fears grow over the safety of switching to new fuels owing to fuel stability, differences between batches of blended fuels, lower flashpoints than the minimum required by international safety regulations, inadequate safety margins for catalytic fines and ignition delays stemming from inferior combustibility

Greek shipowners say new rules on switching fuel must not endanger ships and crews

A WORKING group at the International Maritime Organization has recommended that the UN agency’s marine safety committee gives further scrutiny to safety worries raised by the shipping industry about converting to low-sulphur fuels.

Last week’s extra intersessional meeting, authorised by the marine environment protection committee, known as the MEPC, to speed up progress on ship implementation of the 2020 sulphur limit, agreed that the marine safety committee should be invited to consider the subject at its next session in December.

MSC 100 should “take action as appropriate noting the initiative of industry organisations to develop industry guidance and training material,” the working group said in a report.

While the working group cannot take decisions, the sentiment has been welcomed by shipowner groups lobbying to raise awareness of potential operational consequences of switching to new fuels.

A hefty submission on the issue was tabled in May by the Marshall Islands and co-sponsored by Liberia and senior shipping organisations including BIMCO, the International Chamber of Shipping, Intercargo, Intertanko and the World Shipping Council.

The backers of the submission had urged that any safety implications and rules or guidelines deemed necessary should be put before the next sessions of the MEPC and the MSC.

“Failure to address these challenges would result in a real and major threat to ships’ crews and machinery and, by extension, to the marine environment,” said the Union of Greek Shipowners, one of the first shipping bodies to react.

It welcomed the fact the IMO was taking into account “several valid safety concerns linked to the transition”.

According to the union, the world’s largest national shipowners’ body, the concerns relate to a wide range of aspects such as fuel stability, differences between batches of blended fuels, lower flashpoints than the minimum required by international safety regulations, “inadequate” safety margins for catalytic fines and ignition delays stemming from inferior combustibility.

Greek owners were “actively working” towards complying with the new 0.5% sulphur limit but marine fuels used from 2020 onwards “should not only be compliant in terms of sulphur content, but must also be fit for use, without compromising the ships’ and crews’ safety,” said UGS president Theodore Veniamis.

The IMO had “demonstrated pragmatism”, he said.

“The new rules are a game changer for shipowners, operators and refineries. There are many variables that may impact on the consistent compliance by ships, which means that the implementation of the new rules will not be straightforward,” Mr Veniamis warned.

The union said that doubts about the worldwide availability of safe, compliant fuel by 2020 added to safety-related worries.

Intercargo, too, hailed a “successful outcome” from the intersessional meeting with regard to the safety implications from low-sulphur fuel use.

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