IMO 2020: MEET THE EXPERTS

Markku Mylly

With the shipping industry gearing up for the implementation of the IMO’s global 0.5% sulphur cap, with less than a few weeks to go, we caught up with master mariner, former seafarer and former executive director of the European Maritime Safety Agency, Markku Mylly, to discuss fuel systems, possible safety repercussions and how best to prepare vessels for MARPOL Annex VI.

Hi Markku, thank you for taking the time to talk with us today – It would be great if you could provide a brief outline of your career in the maritime industry?

I am a master mariner by education and began my career in the maritime sector back in the early 1970s. I started out as a seafarer, a role which I was in for almost fifteen years, then worked as a pilot, and director of the Finnish Maritime Administration. From there I progressed to CEO of the Finnish Port Association, and have spent the last six and a half years with the European Maritime Safety Agency as the executive director. I am now retired but still actively participating in maritime related activities such as  running my own consultancy company MyNavix, lecturing in several universities and working with start-up companies.

What is your opinion on the current state of the shipping industry in regard to IMO2020? Do you think the industry is prepared for the change?

 It is a huge but necessary change, and in principle, shipping companies have taken the correct measures to prepare for the regulation, with some looking to rely on Low Sulphur Fuel Oil and others, around 55,000 Solas vessels across local merchant fleets, of which some 4000 installing scrubbers today. There are also other alternatives such as LNG, methanol, biofuels and even the possibility of electricity, which is more on the limited scope, but just reflects the range of alternatives to Heavy Sulphur Fuel Oil currently on the table. At the end of the day the IMO will be bringing this into force come 2020 whether ship owners are prepared or not!

What are the biggest issues regarding fuel supply systems?

The discussions around the potential issues have so far focused on the availability and quality of Low Sulphur Fuel Oil. I think the quality requirements need to be properly established in the future as the quality of fuel can have detrimental effects on a ship’s engine if requirements are not upheld. The IMO has been working on this intensely and there are now studies and ISO requirements which can be used port to vessel. However, I doubt that all bunker suppliers are following the criteria, and there could be negative repercussions for ship engines if bunker companies are failing to fulfil ISO requirements.

Do you think fuel contamination is going to be a serious issue for owners?

There has been a lot of training available to educate ship owners and crew around how not to contaminate fuel, however not all shipping companies are taking this risk seriously enough which means there could be possibility for contamination. Ship owners must start preparing and beginning this changeover process early to ensure that there is enough time to clean all the pipes and tanks onboard their vessels. If they fail to do this there may be technical problems, and if there is a contamination of Low Sulphur Fuel Oil and High Sulphur Fuel Oil, then the overall sulphur reading could read 0.8% instead of 0.5%, which in turn, would mean the vessel would not be compliant and could incur the ship owner penalties.

What are some safety risks around new fuels? How would you mitigate these?

There has been a big follow up, especially in the United States, around the new fuel oils and possible damages. The main safety issue stems from the fact that big ship engines, lubrications and fuel pumps have been built for High Sulphur Fuel Oil. Therefore, if ship owners have not taken all of the necessary precautions, the heating and dramatic increase in temperature of the Low Sulphur Fuel Oil can cause damage to the fuel systems and even effect compliance. One way to mitigate these risks, is through careful technical preparation, which takes into consideration temperature, time and the switch from diesel to marine gas oil when entering port areas. In some cases, the ship engines will require prior modification, but if you listen to your engine and make the right preparations you will minimise the safety risks.

Where do you predict the industry will be a year from now?

The increase in demand for Low Sulphur Fuel Oil indicates that the cost will rise dramatically with some analysts predicting a 25%-30% increase. Such rise in costs of fuel will increase the overall cost of shipping and may even impact freight levels. In all honesty, there are so many balls in the air that ship owners must be carefully following the availability of fuel, cargo volumes, and taking into consideration the new regulations when looking at new builds. It will also be interesting to see the environmental effects of the regulation when implemented on a global level; I think the bottom line is that we need to continue to do more and better whilst keeping businesses economically viable.