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Greek shipping minister urges ‘practical solutions’ to 2020 implementation issues

Speaking at a major gathering of Asia’s shipping industry dignitaries, Greece’s shipping minister Ioannis Plakiotakis raised concerns regarding the imminent implementation of the 2020 sulphur rules

‘We need to ensure global availability of compliant fuels and resolve all issues related to compliance, quality and safety requirements to alleviate the concerns of the international maritime community,’ Mr Plakiotakis told the Cosco World Shipping Summit in Shanghai on Wednesday

WITH less than two months to go until the implementation of tighter sulphur limits on marine fuels, Greece’s shipping minister Ioannis Plakiotakis has reiterated long-held industry concerns related to safety, fuel quality and compliance issues.

Speaking at the World Shipping Summit in Shanghai — an annual event organised by Chinese shipping giant Cosco — Mr Plakiotakis urged assembled dignitaries to find practical solutions to compliance issues, with a view to “ensuring fair competition and a level playing field for global shipping”.

Speaking to Lloyd’s List on the sidelines of the conference, Mr Plakiotakis conceded that his comments were a deliberate bid to garner broader backing for a more pragmatic approach at the International Maritime Organization, where Greece has often been an isolated critic — at least in public — of the sulphur rules.

“I have expressed my worries directly to the IMO secretary general,” he said. “The gas question, low sulphur availability — but I’ve had no real answers yet and there isn’t a plan B right now if something goes wrong.”

While the Union of Greek Shipowners, the world’s largest national shipowners’ association, has been a vocal critic of the sulphur rules — and has received backing relating to several key issues from other industry bodies, including Intercargo — Mr Plakiotakis’ comments mark a significant escalation from the lobby realm to ministerial level.

“We need to ensure global availability of compliant fuels and resolve all issues related to compliance, quality and safety requirements to alleviate the concerns of the international maritime community,” Mr Plakiotakis told the Shanghai audience on Wednesday.

“From our side, we are moving towards ensuring — through legislation — the full compliance of the bunker industry to the new requirements. To this end, we anticipate all stakeholders will need to find practical solutions relating to compliance issues, with a view to ensuring fair competition and a level playing field for global shipping,” he said.

The Cosco summit in Shanghai is a significant gathering of industry power brokers. His address, which focused on the IMO’s ability to create a level playing field and “avoid the implementation of unrealistic measures”, will have resonated with the largely Asian audience.

The UGS’ previous attempts to raise the same concerns have won support from other shipowners’ associations, particularly in Asia.

Agreement with the Greek arguments is often privately expressed in the corridors of the IMO on Albert Embankment in London and at forums elsewhere, but this has not always been reflected in the public position taken by officials from countries and organisations.

Speaking to Lloyd’s List in a rare interview published last month, UGS president Theodore Veniamis said: “Some countries need to raise their voices now, at the very next opportunity. We need to wake up some of our colleagues and some other states before it is too late. The way we are headed, they are going to make the biggest mistake of their lives.”

While Mr Plakiotakis’ address may win him some industry support, Greece realistically has few options left to influence any last-minute changes to the 2020 sulphur rules at the IMO. While rumours have circulated that Greece hasn’t entirely given up on a last-ditch “pragmatic” softening of the introduction of the sulphur cap, there is no forum left in the IMO calendar to address such issues before implementation.

Even if there was a suggestion about addressing the issue after the rules have taken effect in 2020, the sulphur issue falls firmly under the remit of European Union competence so a direct approach from Greece would be politically difficult at best.

It is also the case that Greece’s political attention has now turned to decarbonisation within the IMO bodies. Greece has submitted a proposal to the intersessional group being held next week to strengthen and change the particulars of the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan, another IMO regulation that forces shipowners to develop strategies to make their vessels more efficient.

Rather than asking for a speed limit, however, Greece wants vessels to reduce their maximum main engine power, with such a requirements to be applied across different vessel sectors rather than on an individual ship basis.

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