Published on Australian Maritime Safety Authority (

Implementation of the sulphur regulation

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has developed tools to support the implementation of the low sulphur fuel limit.

Guidelines for consistent implementation 

IMO guidelines to support the transition to the low sulphur fuel requirements, include:

Material developed by the IMO can be accessed through IMODOCS.

car ferry

1 January 2020 sulphur limit


The IMO adopted amendments to Annex VI of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) in 2008. The changes set tougher regulations to control airborne emissions from ships, including sulphur oxides (SOx). As part of these amendments, the IMO agreed that from 1 January 2020, the sulphur content in fuel oil used by ships must be 0.50 per cent m/m or less, subject to review in 2016 on the global availability of low sulphur fuel.


The review was commissioned by the IMO and assessed the global and regional demand for, and supply of, compliant fuel oil, drawing on industry and stakeholder input. The review was completed in 2016 and found that sufficient compliant fuel oil would be available to meet the 2020 date.

1 March 2020 carriage ban 


In April 2018, the carriage ban was first considered by the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC). It was agreed that amendments should be made to the instrument that regulates air emissions from ships (the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)). This ban aims to support the global implementation of the sulphur regulation and compliance on the high seas, which will maintain a level playing field for industry.


The IMO adopted amendments to Annex VI of MARPOL to introduce the ban on the carriage of non-compliant fuel by all ships from 1 March 2020.

IMO work to support sulphur 2020 

Ensuring the safety of low sulphur fuel oil

All fuel used by ships must meet quality standards (set out in MARPOL Annex VI). The IMO has also committed to continue their review of this issue as a standing agenda item at the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC).

As a first step, the IMO has issued (ISO 8217) and has issued guidance on quality consideration for low sulphur fuels (ISO/PAS 23263:2019). This guidance provides requirements that apply to all 0.50 per cent m/m sulphur fuels and confirms the applicability of ISO 8217 to these fuels. 

IMO guidance on co-mingling of fuel oil

The IMO has issued guidance on co-mingling of fuel oil in the 2019 Guidelines for consistent implementation of the 0.50 per cent sulphur limit under MARPOL Annex VI (Resolution MEPC.320(74)).

The guidelines recommend ships have a co-mingling procedure that aims to ensure new bunkers are loaded into empty tanks where possible. Where a ship finds itself having to co-mingle a new bunker with bunkers that are already on board, the ship must determine the compatibility between the two bunkers before co-mingling.

The IMO has produced a low sulphur fuel infographic you can download and view: IMO 2020 infographic (PDF 1.4 MB) PNG485.38 KB.

Last updated: 14 November 2023