Recent Developments: Lower emissions and emerging safety implications

When shipping was deliberately omitted from the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, the burden of responsibility for reducing shipping emissions was left to the IMO, which is no stranger to emissions control and has worked to reduce emissions since 1997. From January 1, 2015, the global marine fuel sulfur cap permitted in Emission Control Areas was reduced. Globally, all ships will be required to burn marine fuels with a sulfur limit of 0.50% from January 1, 2020, subject to a feasibility review to be completed no later than 2018[i].

While these efforts are applauded by AGCS, unexpected safety implications have followed, including reported engine problems and power issues. Captain Andrew Kinsey, Senior Marine Risk Consultant at AGCS believes low sulfur fuel use presents a larger problem. “Pilots have reported power losses during critical maneuvers,” he says. “These lighter fuels are not used in the deep sea trades, so we are seeing electrical blackouts when the ships are at their most vulnerable in tight areas and when changing speed. At worst, this could lead to groundings.”

One challenge is that there is no standard low sulfur fuel specification. “The question is: are they all compatible with current engines?” asks Captain Jarek Klimczak, Senior Marine Risk Consultant at AGCS. “We need proper International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards as a matter of urgency.” Operators of older tonnage are required to invest in additional fuel separation tanks, but AGCS questions whether this is always done.

“We have seen an increase in machinery claims in relation to fuel,” confirms Sven Gerhard, Global Product Leader Hull & Marine Liabilities at AGCS. “The residues, or cat fines, are abrasive and if they are pumped into machinery they cause cylinders to deteriorate within two to three years. A new cylinder could cost $200,000 to $300,000, which may not seem high, but if you have regular failures this soon mounts up.”

What are Cat Fines?

Cat or catalyst fines are a by-product of refining made-up of small particles of metal. These are deliberately added to marine fuels to “crack them”. If they are not removed by purification they can cause serious damage and even engine failure.

At its June 2015 meeting, the MSC also adopted SOLAS amendments clarifying provisions related to secondary means of venting cargo tanks in order to ensure adequate safety against over- and under-pressure, approved Guidelines on Software Quality Assurance and Human Centered Design for electronic navigation, amended the long-range identification and tracking (LRIT) system performance standards, released a good practice guide for Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS), and revised guidelines and operational recommendations for ventilation systems in ro-ro cargo spaces[ii].

 By 2025, the IMO projects that all new ships will be 30% more energy efficient than those buildt in 2015