The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has been working to reduce the harmful impacts of shipping on the environment, setting progressively stricter limits on the sulphur content of fuel oils used by vessels. Failure to comply with these new rules can lead to substantial fines.

Recently, the IMO has adopted a 2008 resolution that introduces a reduced global sulphur cap on marine fuels. The current global limit of 3.5% mass/mass (m/m) shall decrease to 0.5% m/m from 1 January 2020.

While the new regulation has been welcomed by all, there are challenges in ensuring its full compliance and enforcement. This page is dedicated to provide Members with the resources necessary to overcome these challenges.

Date: 25/03/2020
Marpol Annex VI requires ships to reduce SOx emissions either by burning low sulphur fuel or by cleaning the exhaust gas.  Exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS), also known as “scrubbers”, have been fitted onboard many ships as an acceptable equivalent method of compliance under Marpol Annex VI. Many more ships are intending to have scrubbers fitted. 
Date: 20/03/2020
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Members are reminded of the MSA’s Guidance on its Implementation Scheme of 2020 Global Marine Fuel Oil Sulphur Cap (“the Scheme”) announced on 23 October 2019. 
The UK Club continues to see a number of bunker quality issues arising from delivery of alleged off-specification or contaminated bunkers. In many of these cases fuel sampling procedures on board at the time of delivery have been found inadequate and in many cases unreliable. 
From 1st March 2020, carriage ban on non-compliant fuel oil will enter into force. This means that ships can no longer carry non-compliant fuel on-board unless the same is carried as cargo. Any non-compliant fuel remaining on-board must be removed from the vessel’s fuel tanks failing which there will be a de-facto non-compliance even if such fuel was not intended to be used for consumption. The Carriage Ban does not apply to vessels fitted with operational scrubbers.
While no changes are anticipated in the US enforced Emission Control Areas (ECAs) on or after 1 January, 2020, US regions outside the ECAs will need to ensure compliance with the IMO’s 2020 global 0.5% sulphur cap from 1 January, 2020.

UK Defence Club

The UK Defence Club has published a series of Soundings bulletins on the upcoming Sulphur Cap, each detailing the various issues that its Members will face leading up to the impending deadline.

The Defence Club has already received numerous queries on the cap. Who will have to pay the higher cost of low sulphur fuel? Can an owner be obliged to install scrubbers, in order to avoid having to stem low sulphur fuel? Who will be responsible for compliance with the new regulations?

One big issue Owners face is whether or not to install scrubbers on their vessels and the potential contractual issues that may arise. Who bears the time and costs required for scrubber installation? Who is responsible for maintenance and the consequences of defective scrubbers?  Issues may also arise under ancillary contracts for the finance, installation and maintenance of scrubbers.

Ships without scrubbers, on the other hand, will need to be physically prepared for the 2020 switchover by ridding themselves of any high sulphur fuel on board. This in itself is likely to pose logistical and contractual issues and will require careful planning.

Once the regulations are in force, other issues are likely to arise during the “teething period”. There is a concern that there will be insufficient supplies of low sulphur fuel to satisfy demand and this may result in practical and contractual difficulties relating to fuel unavailability. Some ports have banned “open loop” scrubbers and this could lead to problems where ships are prevented from entering such ports and therefore unable to perform the chartered service. 

Members will need to anticipate these types of issues when negotiating new contracts or amending existing charterparties in advance of 2020. With careful drafting and planning, it may be possible to mitigate the negative impacts of 2020. Nevertheless, this regulatory change is undoubtedly an area for potential dispute.

Members with specific queries regarding the cap should get in touch with their usual Club contact, or can refer to the Club's dedicated IMO 2020 team Philippa Langton and Caroline Avgerinou.

Visit the UK Defence Club's dedicated IMO 2020 webpage for all the latest updates from the Club. Members can download copies of the UK Defence Club Soundings bulletin below.

May, 2019 - MEPC - Welcome Guidance on IMO 2020

Sulphur Series 03 - 2020 bunker pricing issues

Sulphur Series 02 - Practical Steps

Sulphur Series 01 - Scrubbing Up

New BIMCO IMO 2020 clauses published

Low Sulphur Fuel


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Ship Finder


This Ship Finder is updated on a daily basis. Members who need to advise the Club of updates to their recorded ships' details should advise their usual underwriting contact.

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