Recent PPR 7 Meeting Sheds Light on IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee's Upcoming Session

Highlights

  • Based on the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) Pollution Prevention and Response Sub-Committee meeting (PPR 7) in February 2020, dramatic changes don't seem likely in the global regulatory structure for the installation and operation of vessel exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCSs), also known as "scrubbers," at least for operation in the open seas worldwide.
  • Most significantly for much of the maritime industry, the recommendations from PPR 7 to the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee's upcoming 75th session (MEPC 75), scheduled for March 30-April 3, 2020, now include a clear statement that any future changes to scrubber rules will not become effective until six months after adoption and will not apply to vessels with previously installed scrubbers.
  • PPR 7 also addressed the consideration of harmonization of restrictions on scrubber operation in port and coastal areas. The PPR 7 output suggests further evaluation and definitions for this area, but proposed no immediate specific action or rules changes.

Key outcomes from the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) Pollution Prevention and Response Sub-Committee meeting (PPR 7) in London on Feb. 17-21, 2020, indicate that there will not likely be dramatic changes in the global regulatory structure for the installation and operation of vessel exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCSs), also known as "scrubbers," at least for operation in the open seas worldwide.

This Holland & Knight alert reviews PPR 7 and looks at how it could affect the upcoming IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee's 75th session (MEPC 75), to be held March 30-April 3, 2020, at IMO headquarters in London.

PPR 7 Recommendations and Potential Impact on MEPC 75

The PPR 7 Agenda Item 11 recommendations for Review of the 2015 Guidelines for Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (Resolution MEPC 259 (68)) include a substantial number of technical refinements to the existing 2015 scrubber rules. Proposed revisions developed by contributing member organizations for PPR 7 will result in a new 2020 version. The revised rules are in the form of a markup of the 2015 guidelines. The revised version will include significantly more detail, adding scrubber installation testing procedures, methods for monitoring scrubber performance, rules for what happens if the scrubber or its monitoring devices fail while under way, and a range of other operational topics. The revisions also add a substantial number of definitions and clarifications. However, the basic scrubber design and compliance requirements would not be fundamentally altered.

PPR 7 Agenda Item 7 also included consideration of recommended changes on scrubber wash water discharge. The discharge water criteria are not substantively changed from the 2015 version now in effect. The pH limit is still 6.5, and the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and turbidity regulations and descriptions look much the same structurally as the existing guidelines, but with considerable added details and definitions for measurement methodologies, frequency of sampling and other implementation topics.

Most significantly for much of the industry for planning and stability purposes, the recommendations from the PPR 7 meeting to the upcoming MEPC 75 now include a clear statement that any future changes to scrubber rules will not become effective until six months after adoption and will not apply to vessels with previously installed scrubbers. This "grandfathering" provision means that any rules changes that become effective will not apply to the more than 3,100 vessels that already have EGCSs installed. These vessels may continue to operate previously installed scrubbers as an alternative means of compliance with the IMO 2020 rule prohibiting continued use of 3.5 percent high-sulfur fuel oil (HSFO). Vessels with EGCSs may use HSFO, but will still have to switch to 0.5 percent low-sulfur fuel or other clean fuels in certain port and coastal areas where the port state has imposed stricter criteria or limited sulfur use. Such vessels may also retain HSFO on board when in restricted areas, although port states (e.g., China under new Ministry of Transport rules effective March 1, 2020) may impose certain documentation requirements regarding the carriage of non-cargo HSFO. (See Holland & Knight's previous alert, "China's IMO 2020 Implementation Plan Raises Issues for Vessels Using Open-Loop Scrubbers," March 3, 2020).

Further Study on Harmonization

In its Agenda Item 12, PPR 7 also addressed the European Union (EU)-favored consideration of harmonization of restrictions on scrubber operation in port and coastal areas. The PPR 7 output suggests further evaluation and definitions for this area, but proposes no immediate specific action or rules changes. The slightly awkward new title of this output is "Evaluation and harmonization of rules and guidance on the discharge of discharge water from EGCS into the aquatic environment, including conditions and areas."

The proposed scope of work for further study is divided into four parts: 1) risk assessment/impact assessment, 2) delivery of EGCS residues, 3) regulatory matters and 4) database of substances. Each of these four topics has numerous proposed subfactors for consideration. Due to time constraints, the subtopics were noted and reserved for future meeting discussion. Overall, the most significant item on the "harmonization" subject is that at present it consists only of a general set of scoping criteria. It is likely that any substantive actions will follow during or after the MEPC 75 meeting.

Among the Item 12 papers considered at the recent PPR 7 meeting was a report from the Joint Group of Experts on Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP), which considers prior studies on coastal area EGCS impacts, details areas of special concern and outlines topics for focus of future studies. However, GESAMP does not include specific regulatory recommendations.

Accordingly, the future for EGCS design and operation in the open ocean should be more clearly defined after this month's MEPC 75 meeting, but the area of coastal, port and inland restrictions seems likely to remain more fluid.

Additional Reports and Resources

In addition to Holland & Knight's report on the Chinese implementation plan, another recent topic of interest is a policy announced by the Suez Canal Authority, which – for the present, pending Egypt's adoption of MARPOL Annex VI (which includes the IMO 2020 rule on HSFO use) – allows the use of HSFO but does not allow operation of any EGCS that discharges wash water while operating. (See Holland & Knight's previous alert, "Recent Guidance by Suez Canal Authority Highlights Complexities of IMO 2020 Compliance," Jan. 30, 2020).