The global 0.5% sulphur cap for marine fuel, due to take effect from 1 January 2020, has led to calls for a prohibition on the carriage of non-compliant marine fuels. This is due to concerns that the cap will not achieve the desired benefits unless it can be consistently enforced worldwide.

A proposal has been made to the IMO which involves an amendment to Annex VI to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL Convention), stipulating that “the sulphur content of any fuel oil carried for use on board ships shall not exceed [0.50% m/m sulphur]”, unless they are using an approved alternative compliance method, such as “scrubbers”.

Whilst this prohibition will provide significant health benefits for the population and the environment, it has also given rise to a number of concerns of ship owners: Increased ship owners’ costs in complying with the prohibition, and the fear that an inability of Governments to enforce the prohibition consistently could lead to “market distortion and unfair competition” (BIMCO Press Release, 22 January 2018).

The increasing rate of scrapping of tankers is also thought to be attributable, in part, to ship owners’ concerns about the prohibition. For example, low-sulphur fuel is expected to be more costly, therefore increasing ship owners’ costs and rendering the maintenance of inefficient vessels unjustifiable (TradeWinds, ‘Deluge of tankers set to be torched as regulations kick in’, 1 February 2018).

The prohibition proposal is widely supported and will be discussed by the IMO at its Pollution, Prevention and Response meeting this week (5–9 February 2018).