From 1 January 2015, all vessels operating in emission controlled areas (ECAs) are prohibited from burning fuel with a sulphur content of more than 0.1%. Prior to 1 January, the  limit was 1%, so a considerable decrease. The implementation of the provisions of Annex VI to IMO MARPOL 73/78 Convention, on 1 January 2015, highlights the need for shipowners and operators to  monitor the correct delivery of bunker fuels to avoid the risk of port stay control sanctions and  fines, as well as the risk of possibly prejudicing any claims against the oil suppliers.

Presently, there are four IMO adopted ECAs: the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the English Channel,  North America and Canada. Other areas are under consideration, including: Australia, Japan, the  Mediterranean and Norway, and these may be proposed as ECAs in the future.

Whilst there are various solutions to meeting the new regulations, such as passing the ship’s main  engine exhaust gas through a scrubber to remove sulphur before emission from the funnel or using an  alternative fuel, such as LNG,  the most common method will most likely be to burn low sulphur fuel  oil. These distillate fuel oils are more expensive to purchase, and this could result in financial  pressure on shipowners and operators, and possibly lead to consideration being given to sourcing  fuels from less traditional suppliers offering cheaper fuel bunker sale contracts.

The IMO has implemented regulations to ensure that supply, as well as the actual burning of the  fuel, is in compliance with the new rules, as they recognise this is the first level of control. Irrespective of what is said to be purchased, upon delivery to the ship, the bunker  delivery must state information including the name, address, and telephone number of the marine  fuel oil supplier, product name(s), quantity, density  and  sulphur  content. Also, and  importantly, a declaration signed and  certified by the fuel oil supplier’s representative “that the fuel oil supplied is in conformity  with the applicable subparagraph of regulation 14.1 or 14.4 and regulation 18.3 of Annex VI” must be provided.

All vessels are required to retain the bunker delivery note on board for a minimum of three years.

The second level of control is the ship’s crew who are there to ensure, in respect of the ECA  compliant fuel oils, that bunkers are not loaded into part filled storage, settling all service  tanks, and that such fuel oils do not become mixed with other high sulphur content fuel oils. This  fuel could actually be used within the ECAs and would exceed the applicable limit.

The third level of control is bunkering sampling which protects both the shipowners and operators,  and can also be used to identify rogue suppliers.

Guidelines have been issued to enable the correct sampling of fuel oil for determination of  compliance with MARPOL Annex VI. Details of specific actions to be taken by the ship are provided,  along with a caveat that local regulations  may dictate sampling procedures, including location of the sample being taken. In the absence of both a correct delivery note and a representative sample,  flag states are to be advised.

The vessel’s crew have to be made fully aware of the correct sampling procedures and trained in  their application.

There are three sets of samples:

  1. Representative, which is an average for the total volume sampled
  2. Primary, which is the representative sample of the fuel delivered to the ship, and throughout  the bunkering period, obtained by the sampling equipment positioned at the bunker manifold of the  receiving ship
  3. Retained, sample which is taken and tested in accordance with MARPOL regulations, and is  derived from the primary sample

The regulations are thorough and include the correct use of sampling equipment, cleanliness of the sample container to avoid contamination, sealing of the  manifold collection container, and the requirement for the retained samples to have a tamper proof  security seal. The seal must have a unique means of identification, and should be installed by the  supplier’s representative in the presence of the ship’s representative.

The sample container must be labelled with the following information, and should be secured to the  retained sample container:

  1. Location at which, and method by which, the sample was drawn
  2. Date of commencement of delivery
  3. Name of bunker tanker/bunker installation
  4. Name and IMO number of the recipient ship
  5. Signatures and names of the supplier’s representative and the ship’s representative
  6. Details of seal identification
  7. Bunker grade To facilitate cross-reference, details of the seal identification may also be recorded on the bunker delivery note.

Representative fuel oil samples are to be retained until the subject fuel is substantially  consumed, but not less than 12 months from the date of delivery

The shipboard practice does not end with the sampling. Outside the ECAs, fuel oils with a sulphur  content exceeding 0.1% may be burnt, but this brings in the need for vigilance by the ship’s crew  to clearly document the time and location of the switch-over of fuels, ready for inspection by the  port authorities.