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Compliance with low sulphur 2020

There are limits on the sulphur content of fuel oil used and carried by a ship.

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

The sulphur requirements are prescribed in MARPOL Annex VI, the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983, and Marine Order 97.

How to comply

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

An Exhaust Gas Cleaning System (EGCS) or “scrubber” is the only alternative measure currently approved for use. Ships operating an approved EGCS can continue to use and carry fuel oil with a sulphur content of more than 0.50 per cent m/m.

Further information on requirements for the operation of an EGCS in Australian waters can be found in Marine notice 12/2022—Requirements for the use of Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems in Australian Waters.

Enforcement of the low sulphur limit 

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: Procedures for Port State Control, 2021 (Resolution A. 1155(32)), as amended from time to time, 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 low sulphur fuel regulation, are 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 low sulphur limit can be found in Marine notice 4/2019—Implementation of the 1 January 2020 low sulphur fuel requirement.

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 carried for emergency equipment

Fuel that is carried by a ship for use in emergency equipment must contain a maximum of 0.50 per cent m/m sulphur.

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 2021 Guidelines for Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (EGCS Guidelines) (resolution MEPC.340(77)).

Unless they are significantly modified on or after 1 June 2022, EGCSs approved in accordance with the previous versions of the IMO’s EGCS Guidelines do not need to be approved again.

EGCS wash water must comply with discharge water quality criteria set out in the EGCS Guidelines. While there are no prohibitions on the discharge of wash water from EGCS in Australian waters, some port Authorities may encourage vessels to avoid discharging wash water within port limits.

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 use of an EGCS in Australian waters can be found in Marine notice 12/2022.

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. 

If a ship must bunker non-compliant fuel, only enough fuel should be bunkered to facilitate arrival at the next port where compliant fuel can be taken on board. Non-compliant fuel should 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 EGCS 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 have on board a SIP to demonstrate how they will comply with the sulphur limit. The IMO provides guidance on the development of a SIP (MEPC.1/Circ.878).

More information

Last updated: 20 October 2023