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Greeks bemoan ‘chaotic’ sulphur cap implementation

‘Unaccountable’ oil companies have failed to ensure adequate supplies of 0.5% fuel, with no more than 60% of tramp shipping’s needs likely to be met at the start, says the Union of Greek Shipowners

Likened to the switch from sail to steam, the implementation of new sulphur content rules from January 1 next year appears to be turning into a shambolic run-up, with critics aghast at what has been referred to as the tragic mishandling of the issue

SHIPOWNERS seeking reassurance on the basic requirements of the 2020 sulphur cap have been met with a wall of silence from other industry stakeholders in an environment in which sole responsibility for meeting reduced sulphur and decarbonisation targets is being lumped on owners’ shoulders.

That was the picture drawn by Union of Greek Shipowners president Theodore Veniamis who portrayed a shambolic run-up to the implementation of new sulphur content rules from January 1 next year.

The union “fully supported” the goal of the regulation, which was to switch to environmentally friendly fuels and “contribute as a responsible industry” to reducing air pollution, and protecting human health.

But the transition — which Mr Veniamis likened in scale to the change from sail to steam — had been “tragically” mishandled, he said in Athens this week.

“There are so many issues of implementation that need immediate tackling,” he said. “There is chaos, but no-one is taking any responsibility. Everyone is just trying to avoid liability.”

At worst, the industry faced the risk of ships breaking down and seafarers’ lives being put in jeopardy with little clue as to where legal responsibilities for accidents will lie.

“It is disturbing that even today, six months before [the deadline], and while fully aware of the problems and challenges that the shipowner will have to deal with, the oil industry remains completely unaccountable,” said Mr Veniamis.

Oil companies had “failed to fulfil their duty, by means of appropriate investments, to produce the necessary new quantity of fuel in good time.”

Not a single oil major or trader contacted by the UGS had been able to offer assurance about covering the industry’s needs.

According to its information, the union estimates 0.5% fuel will meet about 55% to 60% of global demand from January 1.

The International Maritime Organization has given Greek owners a rosier estimate of about 80%.

While that could potentially cover the needs of liner companies at some ports, the bulk oil tramp shipping sector needed compliant fuel available at all ports around the world, requiring a coverage ratio of 150%, Mr Veniamis said.

Greek owners, as overwhelmingly worldwide operators, are among the staunchest supporters of the IMO’s global mandate. But Mr Veniamis cited the sulphur cap as an example of regulations that all-too often were developed with the liner industry in mind, “ignoring the bulk tramp sector that represents 85% of world maritime trade.”

Shipbuilders and engine manufacturers contacted in recent months by the UGS to seek guidance on matters of compatibility and guarantees had uniformly failed to reply.

P&I Clubs had also failed to give answers on aspects about liability. Elsewhere, classification societies had shied away from taking a stand on important technical aspects, Mr Veniamis claimed.

Safety concerns and uncertainties surrounding the switch to 0.5% fuel, with an expected heavy reliance on blended fuel, were such that owners could not even rely on compatibility between bunkers provided at different ports by the same oil company, he said.

The owners’ leader did not spare other shipowner-representing bodies from the criticism. The ‘Round Table’ of four international organisations that includes BIMCO, Intertanko and the International Chamber of Shipping had “fallen silent recently, with the exception of Intercargo”.

Regarding other national shipowner associations, he said “we are the only ones shouting, but we will continue to make our voice heard”.

The remarks coincided with the start of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee 101st session.

 
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