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IMO urged to address ‘real and major’ safety threat from sulphur cap

The Union of Greek Shipowners is doubling down on its support for an ‘experience-building phase’ and has called on more maritime-oriented nations to ‘step up’ efforts to have the industry’s safety concerns about the abrupt shift to new low-sulphur fuels in 2020 properly addressed by the IMO. But UGS president Theodore Veniamis also argued that all ships should use clean fuel and that the allowance of scrubbers — often promoted by shipowners with stakes in firms that make them — threatens to undermine the IMO’s own environmental goals and shipping’s level playing field

Greek shipowners’ leader says an ‘experience-building phase’ is the very least that should be done to protect ships and crews from fuel problems, while scrubbers thwart green goals and are being pushed by owners with a vested interest in scrubber-manufacturing

THEODORE Veniamis has underlined Greek owners’ safety jitters about the enforcement of the International Maritime Organization’s 2020 sulphur cap while criticising the new regulations’ allowance of exhaust gas cleaning systems, or scrubbers.

“Greek shipowners remain firmly committed to the dates that have been agreed, but we refuse to agree with any possibility of compromising the ships’ and crews’ safety,” said the president of the Union of Greek Shipowners.

Speaking at a conference in Athens, he emphasised the credentials of Greeks as hands-on operators active mainly in the wet and dry bulk sectors. These account for 83% of seaborne trade and are the sectors set to face the biggest challenges surrounding safe fuel availability in ports around the world, he said.

The union appreciated the IMO’s readiness — “even at this late stage” — to look at transitional issues implementing the cap.

Chief among these were the “obvious uncertainties” over worldwide availability of fuels that complied with the sulphur cap under Marpol and at the same time were safe, compliant with the Safety of Life at Sea Convention, and fit for purpose.

Mr Veniamis argued that the safety issues were “a reality” and failure to address them would cause “a real and major threat” to seafarers, ships’ machinery and, by extension, the marine environment.

Examples of the concerns cited include issues about fuel stability, incompatibility between different batches of blended fuels, lower flashpoints than the minimum required by Solas, inadequate safety margins for cat fines and extended ignition delays owing to poor combustion characteristics.

The Greek owners’ leader hoped that a majority of IMO member states would support the ‘experience building phase’, known as the EBP, proposed by several major flag states and shipping organisations, which is coming up for discussion at next week’s session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee.

This offered “the minimum safeguard for the smooth implementation of the new regulation” and such an EBP should be maintained to the extent necessary to ensure unsafe fuels did not circulate in the market.

Scrubbers commercially motivated

In a nod aimed at Brussels, he said that the European Commission, which is closely watching the IMO’s bid to slash shipping emissions, should understand that the debate was solely about safety and not an effort to obstruct the IMO’s tackling of emissions.

But while reiterating Greek owners’ traditionally staunch support for IMO as the industry’s unique global regulator, Mr Veniamis was scathing about the body’s “hypocritical” allowance of scrubbers.

“Everyone should use low-sulphur marine fuels,” he said. Exempting ships equipped with scrubbers “seriously undermines” the industry’s level playing field as well as reducing the environmental benefit of the new measures.

“It is obvious to everybody that the use of scrubbers is only a short-term option, driven by clear fast-profit motives, and against the IMO’s main target and the industry’s environmental commitment,” Mr Veniamis said.

Urging the IMO to “stay clear” of lobbying from commercially motivated stakeholders, alluding particularly to some owners with a stake in scrubber-manufacturing.

“Unfortunately, what may be a problem for everybody else, is profitable for a minority of shipowners,” he said.

The UGS president also skewered classification societies and their international body the IACS for its “lack of input” about the safety concerns surrounding the introduction of new fuels as well as on the environmental effect of open-loop scrubbers.

“If we want to really improve the quality of the environment, air and sea, we should use only clean fuels,” said Mr Veniamis. “Let’s try this time to be genuinely proactive and protective towards our environment and planet. Let’s try to succeed in making shipping indeed a lot greener,” he said.

He thought industry entities as well as maritime-leading nations ought to “step up” efforts to ensure that safety issues stemming from the sulphur cap are addressed properly.

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