Vast majority fear introduction of the sulphur cap will be an ‘unholy mess’

With less than 18 months to go until the start of IMO’s global sulphur cap an overwhelming 86% of Splash voters believe the new law will suffer a disastrous introduction.

Following on from quotes from Esben Poulsson, the chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) last month, we asked readers in our latest quarterly survey, MarPoll, whether the sulphur cap risked being an “unholy mess” for shipowners. So far, with more than 200 votes counted, 86% believe it will be.

“It is still far from certain that sufficient quantities of compliant fuels will be available in every port worldwide by 1 January 2020,” Poulsson said in a release on being reelected to head ICS last month. “And in the absence of global standards for many of the new blended fuels that oil refiners have promised, there are some potentially serious safety issues due to the use of incompatible bunkers.”

Poulsson said that shipowners still have no idea what types of fuel will be available or at what price, specification or in what quantity.

“Unless everyone gets to grips with this quickly we could be faced with an unholy mess with ships and cargo being stuck in port,” he warned.

One Splash voter commented: “How can it not be? My prediction is it will arrive with great fanfare. Most ships will not be in compliance as the right fuel supply will not be available everywhere. Eventually more ships will not be in compliance than those that are. A new date will be set further into the future allowing fuel suppliers to get it together.”

The sulphur cap was one of the hot topics at last week’s Posidonia gathering in Athens with many owners calling for slow steaming en masse to combat – and profit from – the impending regulation.

Stamatis Tsantianis, CEO, Seanergy Maritime Holdings, claimed last week that a likely slowdown of the global merchant rate will see rates spike. “2020 will be one of the best things to hit shipping for 20 years,” he predicted.

Kitack Lim, secretary general of the IMO, was also on hand in Athens last week where he reiterated that the 2020 deadline for implementation of the cap will not be pushed back.

“There are certain challenges we have to resolve in a most amicable way,” he said at Capital Link’s Athens event eight days ago, urging industry representatives to join IMO member states at a key intersessional meeting at the UN body this July to discuss some of the technical aspects of the looming cap.

The ongoing Splash vote follows on from a recent informal poll of shipowners and operators conducted by US class society ABS, which found that 53% of respondents said their fleets were not yet ready to meet the 2020 sulphur cap requirements.

The sulphur cap is one of nine topics covered in our latest quarterly survey. To vote, takes just two minutes and there is no registration. To vote, click here.

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. If we think of the sulphur issue as a dry run for the broader transition away from fossil fuel, as now committed to by IMO member states and industry with emissions needing to peak imminently, then slow streaming is a most welcome and positive step. The GCF in 2008/9 and the oil price rises that followed through 2014 saw slow steaming across the global fleet accompanied by a significant dip in GHG emissions. With better data access and analytical tools now available, a slow steaming reaction to the sulphur cap will also offer the opportunity to monitor how effective this measure is in reducing global fleet carbon as well as sulphur emissions. Its still 1.5 to stay alive

  2. The shipowners of the world have decided to hold a sit down strike. Scrubbers won’t be fitted on most ships. The last Poseidonia before implementation was an occasion for everyone to look around and feel reassured.

    The date won’t change – so what will happen?

    Inevitably, the IMO will start dishing out exceptions, until the refiners come up with the goods.

    After all, it makes far more sense for the sulphur to be removed at source, where it’s removal can be verified, than to trust an industry to whom cheating is second nature to remove it when out of sight of anyone.

Back to top button