On 1 January 2020, the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) global cap on sulphur content in fuel will come into force. The cap requires all ships to burn fuel with a sulphur content not exceeding 0.5%, or to be equipped with a scrubber that reduces the vessel’s sulphur emissions to 0.5%. 70 000 vessels will be effected by the cap and ship owners need to be preparing now to comply with the Regulations or face harsh penalties, come 2020. Bunker suppliers and monitoring authorities also need to ensure they can deliver the required fuel and monitor ship owners’ compliance.

The IMO’s sub-committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) recently held their 6th meeting to prepare for the implementation of the cap. At this meeting the PPR 6 developed and finalised certain Guidelines on MARPOL Annex VI which give clarity on important issues under Annex VI. PPR 6 also drafted and approved certain amendments to Annex VI.

PPR 6 follows the Maritime Environment Protection Committee meeting which took place in October 2018 (MEPC 73) and which adopted and implemented the HSFO (high sulphur fuel oil) carriage ban that applies to all vessels except for those fitted with scrubbers, and which will enter into force on 1 March 2020. MEPC 73 also approved the IMO’s non-mandatory guideline on the development of a Ship Implementation Plan (SIP) to facilitate the consistent implementation of the 0.5% sulphur limit across all 97% of the global fleet that will be subject to the fuel oil sulphur limitation.

PPR6 Outcomes

1.     Identification of types of fuel samples

PPR 6 gave clarity on fuel oil samples and has identified three different types samples: a delivered sample taken at the time of bunker deliver (aka “MARPOL sample”); an in-use oil sample taken from designated fuel oil sampling points; and onboard fuel oil samples taken from fuel oil storage tanks storing oil not currently in use by the vessel but on board it (such as oil in service tanks).


2.     Amendment to Annex VI regarding on-board fuel sampling

PPR6 also went further to prepare a draft amendment to MARPOL Annex VI that mandates on-board sampling of fuel oil not in use by the ship in order ensure that the HFO carriage ban is effectively enforced when this regulation comes into force in March 2020. This draft amendment also includes suggestions on guidelines that the IMO will need to develop to regulate onboard sampling of fuel oil carried by vessels. The IMO will need to publish these guidelines before this amendment comes into force mid-2021.

3.     Finalisation of the 2019 Guidelines on Consistent Implementation of the 0.5% Sulphur Limit (“2019 Guidelines”)

PPR 6 finalised the 2019 Guidelines which cover: the impact on fuel / machinery systems; sulphur content testing and verification; control measures by Port States; control on fuel oil suppliers; and FONAR (Fuel Oil Non-Availability Report).

Importantly, PPR 6 agreed to include a provision in the 2019 Guidelines which empowers Port State Control (PSC) to prevent non-compliant ships from sailing until measures have been taken to achieve compliance (such as de-bunkering all non-compliant fuel oil) and which establishes PSC reporting procedures for ships found to be non-compliant.

PPR 6 also deleted a draft guideline dealing with non-compliant vessels being permitted a single voyage to the nearest bunkering facility provided that the destination port authority grants the vessel permission.

PPR6 approved a new FONAR template which now gives attention to operational constraints.

PPR 6 also approved a new provision which recommends that authorities should, if deemed necessary, take a sample and test fuel oil from bunker barges or shore bunker barges in the same manner that delivered fuel oils are tested. This development is a important one for the shipping industry as it is imposes stricter quality control on the part of fuel oil suppliers.

MEPC 74 will adopt and publicly release the 2019 Guidelines at their next meeting in May 2019.

Fishing vessel
Fishing vessel

4.     Amendment to Annex VI regarding verification procedures for fuel samples

PPR6 approved amendments to Annex VI dealing with fuel verification procedures for fuel oil samples. These amendments will ensure effective testing and compliance verification procedures for statutory fuel oil samples.

5.     Action against fuel suppliers by PSC

In response to incidences of fuel contamination, a draft joint PSC-MEPC Circular was developed urging parties to Annex VI to ensure that their authorities take appropriate action against fuel oil suppliers that have been found to deliver fuel oil that does not comply with what is stated on the bunker delivery note. This circular is in response to incidences of fuel contamination.

6.     Amendment to regulation dealing with sampling points

PPR6 approved a new paragraph of Regulation 14 of Annex VI which mandates that sampling points must be fitted so that representative samples may be taken. Importantly, ships constructed before the enforcement of the global cap must be fitted with sampling points no later than the first renewal survey within twelve months or more after the enforcement of the Regulations in 2020.

7.     Disposal of non-compliant fuel

PPR6 recognised that the issue of disposal of remaining non-compliant fuel on board is a complex one as ship owners want certainty and PSC want to maintain a degree of discretion over any action that they take. To deal with these complexities, interested parties are invited to submit counter proposals on this issue to MEPC 74.

8.     Guidelines for PSC

PPR6 finalised the draft Guidelines for PSC under Annex VI for submission to MEPC 74 for approval and public release. These Guidelines introduce a reporting requirement by the master or an officer in charge of the bunker operation to a ship’s flag administration where the ship’s representative sample is non-compliant. This reporting requirement in the Guidelines is not mandated by Annex VI, but these reporting procedures should nonetheless be followed if a non-compliance incidence occurs.

9.     Amendment to the Guidelines on Scrubbers

Draft amendments to the EGCS Guidelines (Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems, aka scrubbers) were drafted in response to PPR6 recognising the need to update the 2015 Guidelines. PPR 6 will recommend to MEPC 74 to agree that a study funded by the IMO be conducted which investigates the impact that the draft amendments to the EGCS guidelines may have on the marine environment.

10.  Exemption for HFO used in emergency equipment

Lastly PPR6 clarified that the carriage ban on HFO also applies to fuel oil used in emergency equipment such as emergency generators, fire pumps, life boats, etc, and developed a unified interpretation to this effect. Further, vessels entering Emission Control Area (ECA) zones have to also operate emergency equipment with ECA-compliant fuel. However, this position will not apply to any emissions necessary to secure the safety of a ship or for saving life at sea.


The marine transport industry can look forward to the much needed clarity that the various Guidelines drafted and approved by PPR 6, will provide. These Guidelines will assist the industry in better understanding what the future will look like once the amendments to Annex VI come into force. Specifically, the Guidelines will give better clarity on what restrictions and penalties will be imposed not only on shipowners, but on marine fuel suppliers, to ensure compliance. Marine fuel suppliers and shipowners, alike, will need to start seeing fuel sampling procedures by PSC’s as a new part of life. With the 2020-deadling looming large, shipowners are encouraged to be getting their vessel’s ready to comply with the cap, if they have not already done so.