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Deadline to debunker high sulphur fuel looms in March, warns Hill Dickinson

Beth Bradley, partner at Hill Dickinson
Ship operators still carrying high sulphur fuel on their vessels should start to plan for debunkering now, advises maritime law specialist Hill Dickinson.

Since 1 January 2020, all ocean-going vessels are required to burn bunker fuels with a maximum sulphur content of 0.5%. So far, the transition to low sulphur fuels has been smooth, but the 1 March deadline for part two of the regulation looms.

While the use onboard of high sulphur fuel is now impermissible unless the vessel is fitted with exhaust gas cleaning systems or scrubbers, high sulphur fuel may be carried until 1 March.

“Looking ahead, enforcement action and quality issues will remain live topics as the shipping industry adjusts to the sulphur cap. The next pinch point will be 1 March 2020 when the carriage ban takes effect,” said Beth Bradley, partner at Hill Dickinson.

“Owners have a little over a month in which to arrange to debunker high sulphur fuel and would be best advised to start planning those operations now, so as to avoid the consequences of missing the deadline,” she advised.

Apart from the issue of sulphur content compliance, Hill Dickinson noted that the past four weeks have seen a number of alerts issued concerning sediment issues in particular in low sulphur fuels supplied in Singapore, Piraeus, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Miami, and San Vincente.

The propensity to sediment can cause engine problems from sludging of filters to engine damage and blackouts in the worst circumstances.

Bradley warned: “Quality claims relating to bunkers are not a new phenomenon but, in the past, they have tended to be localised. The spread of alerts concerning sediment, suggests a potentially wider issue concerning the stability of some blended low sulphur fuel.”

Hill Dickinson pointed out that from a practical point of view, the usual advice to owners is to ensure that they have clean bunker tanks, avoid co-mingling of bunkers, and monitor sampling during the supply.