Shipping bodies respond to black carbon claims

A host of shipping bodies have replied in an open letter to the Clean Arctic Alliance in an ongoing spat about the potential for very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) to emit more black carbon emissions than high sulphur fuel oil (HSFO).

In the wake of a joint submission to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) from Finland and Germany that suggested some VLSFO blends had a higher amounts of aromatic compounds leading to greater black carbon output, the NGO Clean Arctic Alliance had asked the authors of last year’s joint industry guidance on the supply and use of VLSFO whether they were aware of the potentially greater polluting effects of the new fuel. The NGO sent the letter to shipping bodies including class, bunkering and naval architects.

The guidelines – published in August – were viewed at the time as a landmark study into the new fuel. The bodies behind them, including IACS, IBIA, IMarEST, RINA and CIMAC, have pointed out in replying to the NGO that the study was limited to operational aspects only and was developed to support suppliers, shipmanagers and seafarers prepare and implement the use of 0.50% sulphur fuels as safely as possible.

The guidelines suggested that the VLSFO would be more paraffinic – not aromatic – in nature.

“The information available since the introduction of the 0.50% sulphur limit on 1 January 2020, suggests our expectations have been generally correct,” the shipping bodies replied in their open letter.

The letter finished by noting: “To conclude, we fully agree that all black carbon related submissions (including the joint submission from Finland and Germany to IMO dated before the introduction of the 0.50% sulphur limit) should be reviewed thoroughly and seriously by the international fuel oil supply and shipping community. The upcoming IMO Pollution Prevention and Response Sub-Committee is the most effective forum to progress that debate.”

In a joint submission sent to the IMO in November last year by Finland and Germany, three months after the joint industry guidelines were published, it was noted that new hybrid fuels with 0.50% sulphur content contained a high proportion of aromatic compounds in a range of 70% to 95%, which resulted in increased [black carbon] emissions in a range of 10% to 85% compared to HSFO. The higher emissions were most noticeable when the engine was running at less than full capacity.

The Clean Arctic Alliance has called for the IMO to support an immediate switch to distillate fuels for ships in the Arctic and develop a global rule prohibiting fuels with high black carbon emissions.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. IMO effort for LowSulphurFuelOil diluted by “Scrubbers”/EGCS (Blatant Acidification of Ocean)

    More Holistic Approach would be Ban Production & Sale of “High Sulphur Fuel Oil” (HSFO) illogical HSFO not permitted on Ocean but can be used on shore!!!

    1. Inert Gas Systems on tankers, legally required, involve open discharge of scrubber effluent overboard and have for forty years. Another enigma ??

  2. Scrubber waste, tank cleaning residue, dead animal deposal, untreated sewage the IMO is a relic incapable of protecting the oceans, seafarers and the public.

  3. Scrubber waste, tank cleaning residue, dead animal disposal, untreated sewage… the IMO is a relic incapable of protecting the oceans, seafarers and the public.

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