The Global Availability of Safe, Compliant Marine Fuels

Cargo ship against big city skyline with world map overlay

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency that regulates marine shipping standards, plans to reduce the maximum amount of sulfur in marine fuels from 3.5% to 0.5% by January 1st, 2020. These regulations on ship emissions are intended to reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide, a toxic pollutant, and other contaminants entering Earth’s atmosphere. Compliance with fuel regulations is enforced by the state or country where each ship is registered, but IMO is working with countries and shipping industry leaders across the globe to ease the large-scale transition to new fuels. However, the marine shipping industry has concerns about the global availability of low-sulfur fuels and the impact it will have on fuel prices.

Sulfur Dioxide’s Effect on Health and the Environment

Most ships use fuel derived from crude oil, which contains sulfur. Burning this fuel releases sulfur oxides (SOx), which are harmful to human health and can lead to respiratory infections, lung disease, itchy eyes, and trouble breathing. Sulfur emissions are also detrimental to the atmosphere, contributing to acid rain that can harm crops, forests, and marine animals.

In 2016, Finland submitted a study to IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee on the health impacts of sulfur oxide emissions from maritime shipping vessels—it’s estimated their SOx emissions would contribute to more than 570,000 additional premature deaths from air pollution worldwide between 2020-2025 if limitations aren’t enforced by next year. The new sulfur limits on fuel oil will significantly reduce the amount of sulfur oxides emitted by shipping vessels, and they’re expected to have major health and environmental benefits the world over, especially for citizens living close to ports.

What Limiting Sulfur Emissions Means for Marine Logistics

The marine logistics industry and vessel operators have a few options for complying with the new IMO sulfur limits. The most obvious solution is to switch to a low-sulfur fuel that complies with the new regulation—however, the widespread availability of acceptable fuels to use in marine engines is uncertain. Another option involves installing exhaust cleaning systems (also called “scrubbers”) to remove sulfur oxides from the ship’s engine and gas emissions, but installing scrubbers is expensive and can increase a ship’s operating costs. The marine industry also has the option to switch to nonpetroleum-based fuels, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG). While LNG is a clean fuel substitute, the infrastructure needed to support its widespread use is limited in availability and scale.

The limited availability of low-sulfur fuels is expected to increase the cost of compliant fuel costs, making marine transportation more expensive until another solution is widely available. While the marine logistics industry and its vessel operators have several options for dealing with new sulfur regulations, there must be an effort from oil refineries to drive global change. Refineries and the marine logistics industry must work together to create a long-term solution for increasing the supply of low-sulfur fuels and minimizing the output of hazardous emissions.

Global Shipping’s Ocean Freight Services

Global Shipping Services conducts all business in strict compliance with all applicable laws and regulations of the countries and jurisdictions involved. We’ll make sure your marine shipment arrives at its destination safely while abiding by the new fuel regulations. Our years of experience and expansive global network allow us to provide competitive shipping prices amidst fluctuating fuel costs. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you ship marine cargo compliantly and efficiently.