Singapore — Compliance with the International Maritime Organization's global sulfur limit for marine fuels will likely settle around 80% towards 2020 as most shipowners switch to 0.5% sulfur bunker fuels to meet the rule, senior executives at Parker Kittiwake told S&P Global Platts Friday.
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Less than a year remains for the regulation to be implemented, but concerns still linger about the extent of compliance with the rule due to the magnitude of the change and the costs involved.
"We'd like to hope everybody complies and pays attention to these rules. However, if they [shipping industry] get to 80% compliance initially, they're doing pretty well," David Atkinson, principal chemist Parker Kittiwake, said.
Challenges to ensure compliance include expectations of a lack of strict enforcement by some ports and flag states.
"The fuel variation from port to port will be vast and furthermore, at present, fines and penalties imposed on non-compliant vessels in the special environmental control areas vary considerably. As such, ensuring uniformity in enforcement poses a hurdle," Scott Herring, marine account manager at Parker Kittiwake, said.
If the fines are minimal, the ship owner and operator might be tempted to burn non-compliant bunker fuel oil and pay a penalty rather than use cleaner fuels to comply, Herring added.
Compliance can be spurred through the use of drones, onboard sulfur analyzer tests as well as laboratory tests, both executives said.
"However, there is no one set method that is accepted or approved," Herring said.
Then there are still some serious concerns about whether there will be enough 0.5% sulfur bunker fuel oil available to meet demand, Herring said.
People could end up exploiting the Fuel Oil Non-Availability Report, or FONAR, and plan bunkering only at ports where 0.5% sulfur bunker fuels are not available, he said.
"Scrubbers uptake has been slower than expected and chances of its adoption rising drastically between now and 2020 is quite slim," Herring said.
However, both executives said that Asia was not likely to lag behind Europe as far as the extent of compliance was concerned.
"I do know that China is very hot on environment and enforcement. They're going to toe the line," Atkinson said.
Other countries in Asia have also made rapid strides to catch up with the rest of the world in their efforts to curb environmental emissions from shipping, Herring said.
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INITIATIVES AND CHALLENGES
Besides compliance, the IMO 2020 rule brings other challenges too.
The new fuel blends entering the market to meet the 0.5% sulfur limit will be very different from those that are available today. This means their quality parameters will need careful monitoring as there could be stability and compatibility issues around their use, Herring said.
The increase in blending is expected to increase the problem of cat fines (catalytic fines), Herring said, adding that bunkers must be tested and results received and analyzed before the fuel is used.
Technology companies and original equipment manufacturers can support regulators and shipowners with compliance and help them to transition smoothly to embrace this rule, both executives said.
Last year, Parker Kittiwake launched an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) Analyzer, a portable testing device which, among other parameters, measures the sulfur content in bunker fuel.
The XRF Analyzer provides an accurate indication of sulfur content through the analysis of a small fuel sample in less than three minutes, Herring said.
The XRF Analyzer is also factory calibrated according to the ISO 8754 standard, and is capable of conducting field measurements that correlate strongly with laboratory measurements.
The company has also developed a cat fines test kit, which detects catalytic fines to prevent irreparable damage to fuel pumps, injectors, piston rings and liners.
Meanwhile, the company's compatibility tester has also seen an exponential jump in inquiries as well as orders, both executives said.
The tester helps confirm that the fuel delivery will remain stable in the bunker tanks without excessive asphaltene drop out, helps identify possible stability problems before blending two fuels and indicates the effectiveness of stability additives as well as prevents sludge deposits, failure of fuel handling systems and costly combustion related engine damage, they said.
"People now see the importance of having such equipment on board," Atkinson said.
"There is a lot of anxiety in the industry as 2020 approaches. We are preparing shipowners and operators for all outcomes and opportunities," he added.
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