We are all aware of the global drive for us to breathe cleaner air through the introduction of cleaner road fuels alongside the introduction of vehicle exhaust limits to reduce exhaust gases (SOx) and particulate matter from cars and lorries exhaust fumes. Now, the push to reduce sulphur in fuels is taking to the global seas and coastal areas in a drive to reduce polluting emissions from shipping.
A web platform called Marine Fuels 2020 was launched in May 2018 to help shipping companies prepare for new international sulphur rules for the fuels they use. The ARA and other international refining and distribution Associations have joined the support for this platform to support consistent and timely implementation of the new regulations.
These regulations were set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which deals with worldwide marine shipping matters, says Joel Dervain, Executive Secretary of the ARA. “It is one of the most significant changes our downstream industry has seen regarding fuel specification,” said Dervain. Effective, January 1st, 2020, the permitted maximum sulphur content in all marine fuels used globally will drop from 3.5 per cent to 0.5 per cent – a reduction of 85 per cent.
African refiners have been preparing for this change for some years now, having been well informed of these impending regulations through the ARA Specifications Work Group (SWG). “The challenge for African refiners, storage companies, bunker operators and shipping companies is that, unlike in Northern Europe and North America, Africa has not had the experience of the Emission Control Areas (ECAs)” says Riaan Henn, Leader of the ARA SWG. “Within the ECAs, refiners, storage and bunkering and shipping companies, first gained the experience of producing and handling fuel with no more than 1.0 per cent, later reduced to 0.1 per cent in 2015. The shipping companies, in particular, learnt how to switch fuels safely at sea; while refiners learnt the challenges of producing the new specification fuel from differing components, depending upon refinery configurations. Storage and bunkering companies learnt how to manage the logistic and material handling challenges of more complex operations.”
“The setting of the global sulphur cap at 0.50% for fuel used outside the ECAs, on the high seas and in global ports, is essentially a measure to reduce the pollution by the shipping industry that has been growing continuously,” said Henn. “Maritime traffic is the principal means of trade moving between continents. The United Nations, through the IMO, decided it was time to curtail that level of pollution, both from a SOx emission and particulate-matter standpoint.”
The Marine Fuels 2020 Platform website will provide information and encourage everyone in the maritime, refining, storage and bunkering industries to prepare in a consistent and effective way around the world.
The fact that the compliant fuel supplied may be of differing composition at different ports around the world (either distillate or fuel oil base) will lead to challenges of compatibility, stability and Flash Point for all stakeholders. “The ARA is working alongside all the global players in the shipping and fuel supply industry to assure that a full understanding of how to resolve these challenges is in place in good time. That is why the Platform’s focus on individual ship preparation for 2020 is so important,” added Henn.
“The role of the Marine Fuels Platform is to have one place where we put the necessary facts together to make sure all stakeholders have well-thought-out compliance pathways on how to meet the IMO rule.”