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English Version
ex Lloyd's list 27.09.2010- "Brussels puts its foot down over low- sulphur fuel"

Brussels puts its foot down over low-

sulphur fuel

Monday 27 September 2010

 by Justin Stares

Northern European shortsea market

set for radical transformation

AFTER a final burst of shuttle diplomacy, the European Commission has decided: there will be no delay to the 2015deadline for ultra-low sulphur marine fuel.

The firmness with which the decision has been taken comes as something of a shock. Brussels has over the last three years been more than accommodating towards shipowners. The implementation of lowsulphur restrictions at berth, for example, was softened at the request of industry. Plans to impose a draconian new regime for shipbreaking were put on the back burner after complaints that they would not work.

Given this past flexibility, it was not surprising industry thought that another bout of lobbying could do the trick for sulphur.

While always admitting it was going to be an uphill struggle, there was even hope the International Maritime Organization would be asked to reverse its amendment to the Marpol Convention Annex VI 0.1% sulphur requirement for the North Sea, Baltic Sea and Channel.

The European Commission would, according to industry plans, co-ordinate the positions of the EU member states, whom, it was hoped, would realise they had been either duped or railroaded by the US into accepting the tough sulphur legislation, the consequences of which they had not truly considered.

Industry lobbying reached its peak in the spring and summer of this year. There was a flurry of public letters and private meetings between industry bigwigs and commissioners.

A letter from a group of industry associations addressed to EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik, dated May 12, said the new sulphur rules were “unacceptable”.

Cost increases would be “very dramatic” and would have a “negative impact on the competitiveness of industries and the affected EU countries”. Unwanted side-effects, it was claimed, would include “increased CO

Co-ordination among EU member states by the commission, a sometimes controversial process, was also mentioned: “Due to the fact that the EU has competence on sulphur emissions and that member states therefore are obliged to follow the outcome of the EU co-ordination, we urge the commission based on various impact assessments to facilitate and coordinate with member states to amend the International Maritime Organization decision for the ECA [emissions control area].”

It was, however, clear before Brussels regulators headed for the beach in July that the commission was not sympathetic. One private meeting, said to have involved industry and a group of commissioners, took place shortly before the summer recess and went, according to insider reports, “very badly”.

The commission’s initial line was that it had no mandate to intervene in the IMO. This was no doubt accompanied by a helping of irony, given industry opposition to the Brussels request for EU membership of the London-headquartered regulatory body.

Industry arguments were backed up by the obligatory impact assessments pointing to a huge rise in costs should shortsea shipping in northern Europe have to switch to distillate fuel. The costs would lead to “modal back-shift”, a transfer in traffic from sea to road, a phenomenon running counter to EU policy (actually a moot point given recent policy developments.

The line was regurgitated as recently as last week at the European Cruise Council. Distillate fuels would cost on average 83% more, Cruise Council technical director Robert Ashdown told the conference. There has been no impact assessment or consideration of mitigation such as sulphur averaging and sulphur, the conference was told.

However, the response was unequivocal. Any request by Brussels to reverse a decision already taken by the International Maritime Organization would be “unprecedented” and “a difficult political move”, commission official Elena Visnar Malinovska told the same conference.

She gave a no-nonsense presentation that ended with a desire to “dispel any lingering doubt” that the 2015 deadline might not apply. “Postponing the deadline for the EU would be very damaging and would be unprecedented,” she said.

While admitting modal back-shift is a worry, the commission says it is not a serious enough worry to revise the IMO’s regulation, which is due to be turned into EU law later this year.

There is another Brussels answer to those who harp on about trucks having an unfair advantage. The commission points out that it is increasing the cost burden on road transport, too, via the Eurovignette directive.

Eurovignette, essentially a tax by another name, has however been stuck in the European Council of ministers for a long time; EU member states cannot agree on the tax-sharing burden.

In retrospect, the sulphur lobbying campaign failed because industry lacked crucial support from EU member states.

“We’ve been a bit disappointed within the response from governments,” said one lobbyist.

“They’ve been saying neither one thing nor another.”

While Baltic states have toyed with the idea of putting their heads above the parapet, there has only really been one firm government ally: Finland.

Concerned about its pulp and paper industries, Finland has exchanged letters with European Commission President José Barroso. In what is undoubtedly a sign that the policy is now set in stone across all Brussels ministries, Mr Barroso dismissed the Finnish concerns, arguing that the EU should not have to choose between competitiveness and environmental protection.

 While calls for compensatory measures are bound to continue, the industry fight to alter the deadline is likely now to be dropped.

Indeed, there are already signs of owners, operators and equipment manufacturers coming around to the fact that the 2015 deadline will spur investment.

Getting down to the sulphur emissions control area requirements is going to mean expensive distillate fuels, scrubbers and possibly liquefied natural gas-powered vessels.

Italian shipowner Ignazio Messina has placed an order for exhaust gas cleaning technology with the deadline in mind. The ro-ro operator has ordered 20 sulphur dioxide scrubbers to be fitted on to four 45,000 dwt vessels being built at Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering in Korea.

Cruise giant Carnival already operates scrubbers on board one of its ships, though the results are said to have been “challenging”.

The focus on another emissions-beating option, liquefied natural gas, is increasing. Of all potential technological advances, it is the most radical and potentially the most revolutionary.

As well as producing low emissions of all types (nitrogen dioxide, another polluter, is often overlooked) LNG is, some say, potentially less expensive that traditional fuels.

Talk of LNG-powered vessels was confined to Norway and the odd EU-funded research project until a few months ago.

LNG power was considered to be a fuel for the future.

However, its introduction now looks likely to be brought forward. “The technology already exists,” said Andrew Edwards, general manager, strategic account management at engine maker Wärtsilä. “We have been trying to convince the cruise industry to have a look at it.”

The Brussels cruise conference was buzzing with talk of an order for an LNG-powered containership.

There are still obstacles. The most obvious is the lack of LNG fuelling stations, though this could be overcome with a little good old-fashioned intervention. Both national governments and the European Commission are examining ways to encourage such investments, and fuel will no doubt become available as the demand grows.

There is talk of other hurdles, such as the size of the fuel tanks required. LNG will only ever be an option for shortsea voyages, not deepsea, some say.

 As the debate among the technical experts continues, one thing is sure: these are, in the final analysis, simply engineering challenges.

The shortsea market in northern Europe is on the verge of a major switch in fuels.

By making the IMO convention binding law, the EU is driving this change. Ironically, perhaps, the whole process seems to have been driven by European governments agreeing in IMO to a measure proposed by the US without really knowing what they were doing.

expected impact of use of marine gas oil in emission control areas on freight rates and volumes Survey results per sub-market

       MGO price $200/tonne    MGO price $500/tonne    MGO price $1,000/tonne  

 Average disntance km (one way)

  Number of lines in survey

 Increase in freight rate

 Loss of volume

Increase in freight rate

Loss of volume

Increase in freight rate

Loss of volume

Rest intra-Baltic  588.9  21  -0.1%  -2.8%  19.3%  11.3%  51.2%  52.1%
 The Sound-Kattegat(intra)  157.7  18  7.0%  4.2%  13.8%  14.7%  32.9%  37.7%
 UK <-> Le Harve-Hamburg range  289.1 17  6.1%  8.5%  16.3  21.9%  35.0%  49.1%
 UK/Le Harve-Hamburg range <->Baltic  927.4  8  12.8%  -(*)  24.9%  - (*)  58.6%  - (*)
TOTAL  430.3  64  5.1%  3.0%  17.7%  14.5%  42.7%  40.1%

(*) Number of respondents too small for representative picture Source: ITMMA. Antwerp University


expected impact of use of marine gas oil in emission control areas on freight ratesand volumes Survey results per distance class

       MGO price $200/tonne    MGO price $500/tonne    MGO price $1,000/tonne  

 Average disntance km (one way)

  Number of lines in survey

 Increase in freight rate

 Loss of volume

Increase in freight rate

Loss of volume

Increase in freight rate

Loss of volume

0-125 km

 65.1  16  7.3% 5.3%  15.3%  16.0%  30.5%  33.6%


 21  6.3% 5.9%  15.6% 16.6%  33.9%  43.3%
 400-750km  518.5 13 3.1% 3.0%  20.6% 21.0%  56.0%  50.0%
 >750 km


14  3.2% -4.8% 20.7%  1.1%  57.8%


TOTAL  430.3  64  5.1%  3.0% 17.7%  14.5%  42.7%  40.1%

Source: ITMMA. Antwerp University


Published: Monday 27 September 2010

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