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2016 November 3

IMO blew off some steam

IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) has approved implementation of a global sulphur cap of 0.5% m/m beyond ECAs in 2020 as well as designation of NOX ECAs from 2021. Experts are concerned about these measures to entail the increase of GHG emissions and adverse affect on navigation safety.

Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has made a decision to implement a global sulphur cap of 0.5% m/m beyond ECAs in 2020.  As it was reported earlier, the date of 2020 was agreed in amendments adopted in 2008. When those amendments were adopted, it was also agreed that a review should be undertaken by 2018 in order to assess whether sufficient compliant fuel oil would be available to meet the 2020 date. If not, the date could be deferred to 2025. That review was completed in 2016 and submitted to MEPC 70. The review concluded that sufficient compliant fuel oil would be available to meet the fuel oil requirements. The current limit of sulphur content in marine fuel used beyond SECAs is 3.5% m/m, so conventional fuel oil can be used there. The limits established for the Baltic Sea and the North Sea areas that are SOx Emission Control Areas will remain at 0.1% m/m.

With a limit of sulphur content set at 0.5% m/m, conventional fuel oil cannot be used as marine fuel now. Therefore, ship owners will have to use scrubbers, diesel fuel or other types of fuel. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is among the most popular alternatives. However, LNG being a clean fuel when it comes to sulphur content, will mean the increase of GHG emissions. Ian Adams, former CEO of the International Bunker Industry Association, says that LNG is principally methane recognised as a GHG and widely considered to be twenty-five times more harmful than CO2.

Meanwhile, SOX emissions can be cut through reduction of vessels’ speed. According to Jenni Lajzerowicz, Partner, Sutherland (London), deceleration can let reduce SOX emissions by up to 20%. She also says some countries, like Denmark, use systems for remote monitoring of emissions from ships to ensure their compliance with sulphur content requirements.

Anyway, the number of vessels powered by LNG will grow. Andrew Wilson, Director of Analytics Department at BRS Brokers (BRS Group is a diversified and dynamic global shipping services group), the existing fleet of 441 LNG and LPG carriers will grow with 130 LNG and 141 LPG tankers by 2020. The newbuilds will evidently use LNG as fuel. 

The number of LNG powered vessels in the Baltic region will more than triple totaling 250 units by 2019, forecasts Kirill Lyats, CEO of LNG Gorskaya.

NOX emission limits raise even more questions as the technologies available today are not acknowledged by the specialists to be reliable or stable. To meet the requirement, ship engines should comply with NOX Tier III allowing for reduction of NOX emissions by 80%. As Aleksandr Punda, professor at Admiral Makarov State University of Maritime and Inland Shipping, said earlier, compliance with the Tier-III Standard involves a number of technological and ecological risks. The expert believes that application of SCR technology for reduction of NOX emissions in high seas can cause the failure of shipboard systems. Besides, this technology is not efficient at low engine speed when ships operate at economy mode or maneuver in ports. Moreover, compliance with the mentioned standard results in higher CO2 emissions, which is not consistent with the requirement on improving of ships’ EEOI.

According to Joseph McCarney, representative of the International Association for Catalytic Control of Ship Emissions to Air, there were cases of calcium sulfate fallout on ship’s deck. There is also a problem of disposing spent catalysts containing hazardous substances.

Supporters of the restrictions like to refer to the number of people who died because of SOX and NOX emissions from ships. The methods applied to calculate this number are not clear. Anyway, no assessment of long-term environmental impact from such initiatives are not mentioned.

The restrictions imposed on marine fuel were lobbied mostly by the countries that have no oil and, consequently, no cheap oil products. These are primarily the Nordic countries. Norway has gas but has no oil. Oil product bunker in European countries is generally more expensive as compared with its prices in Russia. Using LNG as a marine fuel will let push Russia from the bunkering market as well as European players are well ahead of Russia in terms of infrastructure. With the current gas prices Russian LNG projects can prove to be non-competitive.

Vitaly Chernov