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IMO rejects 'experience building phase' for 2020 sulfur cap

Houston — International Maritime Organization member states Wednesday rejected a proposal for an initial "experience building phase" for the implementation of its tighter sulfur limit for marine fuels, despite last-minute support from the US.

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The IMO's sulfur cap for bunkers is set to drop to 0.5% by 2020 from 3.5% currently, forcing sharply higher bills on the shipping industry with wide-ranging consequences for various other commodity markets. At a meeting of the organization's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) this week member states discussed a proposal to establish an initial "experience-building phase."

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The proposal's authors "envision the experience-building phase as a time to permit all stakeholders (such as ship operators, engine manufacturers, refineries, bunker suppliers, recognized organizations, Member States and observer organizations) to provide input on an inclusive IMO process that will enable the current challenging regulatory requirements to be safely addressed without unduly penalizing individual ships," according to a draft of the document.

That proposal -- first submitted by the Bahamas, the Marshall Islands, Liberia, Panama and various shipping associations, and later supported by the US -- was rejected at the end of Wednesday's session of the MEPC meeting.

While proponents of this measure defended it as a data-gathering exercise that would assist with robust implementation of the tighter sulfur cap in 2020, some of its detractors saw it as an attempt to water down the regulation. The IMO has repeatedly stressed there is no opportunity between now and 2020 to delay the implementation. -- Jack Jordan, jack.jordan@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Richard Rubin, newsdesk@spglobal.com