COVID-19: Chinese shipowners ask for delay in IMO 2020

As trade takes a hit across the globe, falling victim to COVID-19, some shipowners have sounded out an SOS asking for some leeway in meeting the IMO 2020 directive.  Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade, reports

According to the PaRR, an Acuris company, shipowners in China have asked the State Council to lobby for the International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s sulphur emission limits of 0.5% to be “temporarily shelved” for some months.  

Temporarily shelving the low sulphur emission norms was one of the many measures suggested by The China Shipowners Association to the State Council on 21 February to ease the burden on Chinese shipping operators and help through the difficult patch, an association source told PaRR.  While the association did not specify the number of months, the source suggested a freeze until the end of June, which is the timeline suggested for the other proposed measures.  

Other measures suggested by the association included reducing or exempting some relevant fees and providing shipping companies financing support, according to the source.

The proposed suggestion of temporarily suspending the low sulphur emission norms should be applied to carriers plying local waters as well as those sailing in internationally, the association source said.  The State Council has yet to respond to the association’s request, he added.

Trident Alliance Chair Roger Strevens told PaRR that the coronavirus does not present any grounds for reversion to the old 3.50% sulphur standard.  Strevens suggested that the cost and burdens associated with reimplementing the target sulphur emission level from 3.50% to 0.50% for a second time would likely prove unattractive to shipping companies.

An IMO spokesperson declined to comment on any specific countries.  However, according to a letter dated 19 February, the IMO advised member states to be understanding and adopt close cooperation to overcome challenges related to the implementation and enforcement of the relevant IMO instruments, given the severe public health challenges brought about by COVID-19.   IMO member states which need to raise issues in relation to enforcement are expected to lodge formal registrations or notifications, and it is understood none have yet been lodged.

Since the beginning of this year, the IMO’s International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL Convention Annex VI) directive has been in force, ratified by over 90 countries including China.  To reduce sulphur oxide (SOx) emissions from ships, the IMO directed the amount of sulphur in maritime fuel oil to be reduced to 0.50% m/m (mass by mass) from 3.5%.

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