Compliance with low sulphur 2020

From 1 January 2020, limits for the sulphur content of fuel oil are changing.
  • From 1 January 2020, ships must use fuel oil containing a maximum of 0.50 per cent m/m sulphur.
  • From 1 March 2020, ships cannot carry fuel oil with a sulphur content of more than 0.50 per cent m/m unless the fuel is being carried as cargo.

Ships can carry fuel oil with a sulphur content of more than 0.50 per cent m/m until 1 March 2020, however it cannot be used from 1 January 2020, unless an approved exhaust gas cleaning system is in operation. Port State control regimes will be enforcing the carriage ban. This intention has been reinforced by a joint Tokyo MOU and Paris MOU press release issued on 20 January 2020 to confirm there would be no exceptions to compliance. This press release can be accessed on the Tokyo MOU website

These requirements apply to all ships and vessels globally, including those operating domestically in Australia.

Australian ships, ports, refineries and fuel suppliers will need to be ready for the global implementation of these requirements, which are prescribed in the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983.

How to comply in 2020

To comply with the 1 January 2020 low sulphur limit, ships can use:

  • fuel oil with a maximum sulphur content of 0.50 per cent m/m 
  • alternative fuels such as  liquefied natural gas (LNG), or compliant marine diesel oil that have a sulphur content of 0.50 per cent m/m or less
  • an alternative measure to reduce sulphur oxide emissions approved by the ship's flag State Administration in accordance with International Maritime Organization (IMO) requirements—provided the resulting emissions are equivalent.

An Exhaust Gas Cleaning System (EGCS) or “scrubber” is the only alternative measure currently approved for use.

Enforcement of low sulphur 2020 

AMSA’s approach to compliance and enforcement of the sulphur limit will be in line with Australia’s existing port State control (PSC) regime and IMO guidelines: 2019 Guidelines for port State control under MARPOL Annex VI and 2019 Guidelines for consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit under MARPOL Annex VI.

For initial PSC inspections, AMSA will rely on documentation, such as bunker delivery notes and oil record books, as well as shipboard procedures. The initial inspection is intended to check if the ship is compliant with its documentation and the low sulphur fuel requirements. 

Based on the outcomes of the initial inspection, AMSA may conduct a more detailed inspection, which may include fuel oil sample analysis, to verify compliance.

Penalties apply for failing to comply with the 2020 low sulphur fuel regulation, as set out in the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983. In line with existing PSC policy, where a ship is found to be non-compliant it may be subject to detention, refused access or granted conditional entry to Australian ports.

Further information on Australia’s approach to compliance with the 2020 low sulphur limit can be found in Marine Notice 4/2019.

Fast facts

Fuel covered by the sulphur limit

The low sulphur limit applies to all fuel used by a ship for propulsion or operation, including all gas, petrol, distillates, residual and blended fuels.

Most diesel and petrol supplied as marine fuel in Australia is below the 0.50 per cent m/m sulphur content limit. However, operators should check the sulphur content of the fuel with the supplier.

Checking the sulphur content of fuel 

Operators should confirm the sulphur content of the fuel with the supplier.

If a ship is 400 gross tonnage or above, the supplier must provide a bunker delivery note (BDN) with each fuel delivery. The BDN will specify the sulphur content of the fuel supplied.

Fuel for ships fitted with an exhaust gas cleaning system (EGCS) 

Ships that are operating an approved EGCS will be able to use and carry fuel oil with a sulphur content that is more than 0.50 per cent m/m.

Requirements for exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS) in Australian waters

Ships can use an EGCS in Australian waters to comply with the sulphur limit, provided the EGCS is approved by the ship’s flag State Administration and operated in accordance with IMO requirements including the IMO 2015 Guidelines for exhaust gas cleaning systems

Ships wanting to use an EGCS in Australian waters should notify AMSA before first arrival at an Australian port after 1 January 2020, and provide the following information to

  1. Vessel name (in email subject title)
  2. IMO number
  3. Arrival port
  4. Arrival date
  5. EGCS Scheme A or Scheme B approval
  6. Make and Model of EGCS
  7. Open-loop, closed-loop or hybrid-type system
  8. Results of all wash water testing that has been undertaken in accordance with the IMO 2015 Guidelines for Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems.

For 8), wash water testing should be conducted upon commissioning of the EGCS and repeated every twelve months, as a minimum, for a period of two years. Ships may be directed not to discharge wash-water from an EGCS in Australian waters if this data, or evidence that samples have been taken for analysis, cannot be provided to AMSA before arrival at the first Australian port.

AMSA may take samples of EGCS wash water discharges for the purposes of further studies on potential environmental impacts. AMSA is undertaking further assessment of any potential cumulative impacts of EGCS wash water discharges, which may result in further restrictions on their use in Australian waters in the future.

Residues and sludge generated by EGCSs must be delivered ashore to reception facilities. Ships are not permitted to discharge EGCS residues or sludge anywhere at sea or incinerate EGCS residues and sludge on board. Australian ports offering facilities for the reception of EGCS residues are listed on the IMO’s Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS).

Any EGCS found to be not in compliance with IMO guidelines in any respect (including but not limited to the wash water discharge criteria) may be prohibited from use in Australian waters.

Further information on requirements for the operation of an EGCS in Australian waters can be found in Marine Notice 5/2019.

What to do when compliant fuel cannot be obtained

If a ship is genuinely unable to obtain compliant fuel oil, the ship must notify its flag Administration and the competent authority at the ship’s next port of destination. This notification, known as a fuel oil non-availability report (FONAR), must be provided as soon as the ship is aware that it will not be able to obtain compliant fuel.

The FONAR must be submitted in the approved form and include evidence of all attempts made by the ship to obtain compliant fuel oil, including attempts to source compliant fuel from alternative local sources. 

A FONAR is not a waiver of a ship’s responsibility to comply with the low sulphur fuel requirements. A FONAR is a mechanism for a ship to report an inability to comply due to an unforeseen situation to allow the ship to continue its voyage  to secure compliant fuel oil and/or debunker non-compliant fuel. 

Discharging non-compliant fuel from a ship 

While it cannot be used onboard after 1 January 2020, ships will have until 1 March 2020 to discharge any fuel that has a sulphur content of more than 0.50 per cent m/m. Non-compliant fuel can be debunkered to another ship to be carried as cargo, or to an appropriate shipboard or land-based facility. 

Exceptions to the 2020 sulphur limit

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) permits a ship to exceed the sulphur limit when acting to secure the safety of the ship or to save a life at sea.

Where a ship fitted with an exhaust gas cleaning system experiences unintentional damage resulting in emissions that exceed the sulphur limit, the ship is expected to take all reasonable steps to reduce emissions. This may include carrying out repair works or switching to compliant fuel.

Ship Implementation Plan (SIP)

While not mandatory, AMSA recommends ships develop a SIP to demonstrate how they will comply with the 1 January 2020 sulphur limit. The IMO provides guidance on the development of a SIP (MEPC.1/Circ.878).

More information

Last updated: 

Tuesday 25 February 2020