Maritime Nations Near Big Cut to Pollution-Causing Sulfur in Ships’ Fuel

Big Decision at Upcoming IMO meetingA major International Maritime Organization upcoming decision to curb ship emissions could bring momentous changes, such as steep fuel price hikes, to the shipping industry, according to the following report by Costas Paris and Nicholle Friedman published in the October 21 Wall Street Journal.


“The world’s leading maritime nations are leaning toward setting rules next week to cut the sulfur in oceangoing vessels’ fuel by more than 85% in 2020, people familiar with the matter say.

The rules are aimed at reducing the air pollution from burning high-sulfur fuel oil—a viscous refining byproduct—that health officials blame for respiratory and heart diseases. Shipping executives say it would cost around $40 billion for the industry to meet the new rules, with some of the outlays starting soon, during one of the sector’s worst-ever downturns.

The regulation also could catapult the price of cleaner-burning marine diesel fuel sharply higher if the deadline isn’t extended to 2025, giving fuel producers time to adjust, some shipping and energy executives say. Even at the later date, some ship operators say they doubt there would be enough of the fuel to supply the industry.”


“’Effective enforcement measures are necessary in order to ensure real environmental progress as well as a level playing field for all shipping lines internationally,’ said a spokesman for Maersk Line, the world’s biggest container carrier. “An IMO decision should reflect this.’”

“Ships contribute about 13% of the world’s total sulfur-dioxide emissions according to the IMO—much less than other industries like electricity production. The pollution from burning high-sulfur fuel causes respiratory ailments, and can aggravate existing heart disease, according to the World Health Organization.Implementing the rules in 2020 instead of 2025 would prevent thousands of premature deaths world-wide, health officials say.”


“If enacted in 2020, marine-diesel prices could surge as high as $1,000 a metric ton, said Gregg Schwartz, director of strategic development at fuel supplier Aegean Marine Petroleum Network Inc., at a September event in New York. “’This shock will really crush an already beleaguered [shipping] industry.’”


Shipping operators have three options for complying with the new rules: Switch from sulfur-heavy fuel oil to more expensive diesel or a diesel-based blend, use ships that run on liquefied natural gas, or install scrubbers to existing ships to filter out sulfur.

Full article in the Wall Street Journal