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Shipping needs to set timelines now to be IMO 2020 compliant: WSM executive

Singapore — There should be an urgency now among various players in the shipping industry, including shipowners and charterers, to plan for the International Maritime Organization's global sulfur limit rule as the 2020 deadline is fast approaching and transition will be challenging, Rajiv Nigam, general manager, technical services group at Wilhelmsen Ship Management said Thursday.

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"For those who have not started working on IMO 2020 compliance, you are already too late. You should have started thinking about it last year if you want to be compliant. We're still in March; so all is not lost," he said at a WSM event in Singapore.

The IMO will cap global sulfur content in marine fuels at 0.5% from January 1 next year, down from 3.5% currently. This applies outside the designated emission control areas where the limit is already 0.1%.

According to Nigam, 0.5% sulfur compliant fuels, or low sulfur heavy fuel oils, are expected to be the marine fuel choice come 2020.

"It [compliant fuel] is expected to be available in the market. However, there are concerns about its price, its availability, stability, and compatibility," he said.

The other option is to go for gasoil or marine diesel oil, he said.

But there are concerns about the fuel viscosity issues, Nigam added.

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In January, charterers and owners should have ideally communicated what is it they were planning to do, he said.

"In order to not contaminate your compliant fuel, it is necessary to perform tank cleaning prior to loading your compliant fuel," he said.

Sediments accumulated in fuel tank need to be cleaned out prior to 2020, he said, adding that this will take time and proper planning is crucial.

"We recommended you should now think seriously about when and how you are going to clean the tanks," he said.

"If you were planning to do this in a yard, you need to plan today for space at a shipyard," he said.

It can also be done 'tank by tank' while a ship was still trading or operating, he said.

To add to the preparation, by July, the bunker changeover procedure must be known to the crew while by August the fuel switchover plan must be finalized, Nigam said.

"The charterer, owner, ship crew and manager must be involved while planning for the fuel switchover because if we don't do it by November, you may have difficulty to meet the 2020 deadline," he said.

By October, it is desirable to have the compliant fuel onboard, he said.

Meanwhile, Nigam hopes that port state control will take a very practical and pragmatic approach when they board the ship in 2020 for sulfur checks.

Eventually everybody needs to be 0.5% sulfur bunker complaint because all tanks should be clean and records maintained with evidence by February 29, 2020, he added.

"So, time is of essence," Nigam said.

-- Surabhi Sahu, surabhi.sahu@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Ikhhlaq Singh Aujla, newsdesk@spglobal.com