Are you prepared for the IMO 0.5 per cent sulphur cap on marine fuel?

ExxonMobil Marine Ship at Port

More than 95 per cent of the residual fuel consumed by the marine industry has a sulphur content greater than 0.5 per cent.* It is therefore a safe assumption that the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) decision to impose a global 0.5 per cent sulphur cap – beginning on 1 January 2020 – will reshape the industry. A key implication is that vessels will only be allowed to use high-sulphur heavy fuel oil (HFO) if exhaust gas scrubbers have been installed. Operators may therefore consider compliant fuel options:

  • Distillates (i.e., marine gas oil [MGO])
  • New low-sulphur fuels
  • Fuel blends
  • Premium ECA category fuels
  • Liquefied natural gas (LNG)

Each will need to be assessed by vessel owners, taking into account vessel type, route, age, engine and strategy. It’s unlikely that one compliance option will win out. The industry is likely heading toward a multi-fuel future.

What are the potential challenges?

As the industry transitions, operators may encounter fuel stability and compatibility issues that mirror those that occurred when the ECA sulphur cap was lowered. It is also possible that some compliant fuels will have high levels of cat fines, which can significantly damage engines, leading to substantial repair costs and potential vessel delays.

Fuel supply is another consideration as vendors may change refinery streams to accommodate new, compliant products, which may lead to shortages of HFO. Owners intending to use HFO in partnership with a scrubber should guarantee their supply via long-term contracts in specific ports before 2020.

ExxonMobil expects the future of the marine industry to be complex and challenging. For that reason, operators should rely on fuel suppliers that can provide high-quality, compliant fuel while also offering technical expertise and guidance to help navigate these choppy waters.

*Source: International Maritime Organization


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