The International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (INTERCARGO) is expressing concern about the limited availability of low-sulfur fuel needed to meet an International Maritime Organization mandate that goes into effect Jan. 1.
Ships not equipped with scrubbers will have to power their vessels globally with fuel with a sulfur content not exceeding 0.5% starting next year. (The mandate that even cleaner fuel be used in emissions control areas will continue.)
“It is extremely worrying that compliant fuels have so far been made available only in a limited number of ports and under unfavorable terms for voluntary early testing by ships,” INTERCARGO said in a statement. “Hence, practical testing of new fuels and crew training, which is only possible under real conditions aboard ships, is very limited and pushed to the end of year.”
While liner companies operate their ships on regular port rotations and have increased the ability to contract with fuel providers at ports they call at regularly, operators of tramp bulk ships sometimes have less visibility as to what ports they will be calling in the future.
A report from the International Chamber of Shipping noted blended grades of both residual fuel oil with a maximum sulfur content of 0.5% and distillate fuel with a maximum sulfur content of 0.1% (as currently used in emissions control areas such as those along most of the coast of the U.S. and Canada) “are expected to be the predominant compliant products that will be initially available. However, the quality, availability and quantity of these different types of fuel are currently unknown, and immediately after 1 January 2020 these are likely to vary considerably between individual ports — a particular issue for ships operating in tramp trades.”
INTERCARGO said the lack of availability of low-sulfur fuel “creates significant safety implications for the operation of ships, which could eventually threaten the safety of seafarers, ships and cargoes, as well as the marine environment.”
It is urging bunker providers to make “significant volumes of compliant fuels at many ports around the world so that all sectors can be serviced, including the dry bulk sector” and that charterers and operators start purchasing these fuels and enhance crew training.
“Seafarers deserve our special consideration, as the industry will largely rely on their skills for managing the new compliant fuels aboard ships on the high seas to ensure a smooth implementation of this drastic change,” the association said.