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IMO 2020

Getting the Right Fit for the Cap: Assessing the Options

North P&I writes about the various compliance options available to shipowners for IMO 2020.




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The following article is written by Alvin Forster, Deputy Director (Loss Prevention) at North P&I:

The reduction of the IMO MARPOL Annex VI global fuel sulphur cap to 0.5% will come into force on 1 January 2020. Shipowners have some very difficult and important decisions to make on how to comply with these stringent requirements.

Changes have long been driven by a combination of economics and environmental compliance. This is likely to remain true when considering the 2020 global sulphur cap. There are several options open to shipowners, with the majority currently opting for distillates, perhaps keeping one eye on the development of cheaper hybrid fuels, blends or compliant residual fuels. The choice will be driven by what is right for the vessel and what is economically viable. 

There are several options available to a shipowner that will allow compliance with the 2020 global sulphur cap. There are pros and cons with each, mostly concerning fuel availability, on-board fuel management, capital and operational expenditure as well as maintenance requirements. It is not a simple choice and the decision on what method of compliance is best depends on a number of factors, such as vessel type, trading area and remaining service life. The proportion of time spent within emission control areas (ECA) should be considered as well as the impact of changing over fuels when entering/leaving these areas. The 0.1% sulphur cap currently in operation within the ECAs will remain in force and it is possible that new ECAs may emerge in coming years. For some vessels, the best solution might be multi-fuel, such as having the ability to burn LNG or distillates, depending on the availability of each. Another method may be to install an EGCS but also use hydrogen fuel cells where appropriate. 

Compliance option 1: Burn distillates
Marine fuels are categorised as being either a distillate or a residual. Distillates are the lighter grade fuels from the refining process, the most common being marine gas oil (MGO/DMA) and marine diesel oil (MDO/DMB).


  • No major modifications or capex (capital expenditure) needed - usually limited to minor system modification and tank cleaning
  • Relatively simple changeover process between 0.5% and 0.1% fuels when transiting ECAs
  • Reduced engine maintenance demands and reduced risk of engine failure


  • Forecasted high cost – the difference in price between high sulphur residuals and compliant MGO is expected to increase significantly post-2020
  • Concerns about refineries’ abilities to meet demand in 2020
  • Potential problems with low temperature flow characteristics of some distillates
  • Over-rating of vessel steam generation capacity as there will be no longer any need to heat fuel – possibly leading to vessels having to dump steam due to no heat sink

Compliance option 2: Burn hybrids or blends
A number of producers have developed or are developing compliant products which are heavier than MGO and MDO but lighter than the residual fuel oils that are currently used. Some are specially-produced products and are commonly referred to as ‘hybrid’ fuels. Other products are the result of blending, producing a heavy distillate or light residual blend.

It may be possible that a 0.5%S residual fuel (e.g. 380cst) could be produced from either refining sweet crudes or from sour crudes undergoing a desulphurisation process. But there are currently no plans to make this widely available as a marine fuel.


  • No major modifications or capex needed - usually limited to minor system modification and tank cleaning
  • Expected to be cheaper than distillate fuels


  • Concerns about refineries’ abilities to meet demand in 2020
  • Uncertain supply can lead to price volatility
  • Heavier fuels may contain cat fines
  • Some fuels may require onboard treatment, such as centrifugal separation, viscosity control and heating
  • Some products fall outside the specified grades in ISO 8217
  • Higher risk of incompatibility if using different blends or hybrids

Compliance option 3: Install EGCS
Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (EGCS) are commonly referred to as scrubbers. These systems effectively wash the exhaust gas to remove sulphur dioxides and particulate matter. Post-2020, vessels operating an EGCS can continue to legally burn fuels with a sulphur content of greater than 0.5%. 

Systems are categorised as open loop, closed loop or hybrid. 

Open loop systems: Water is taken from the sea and pumped into the scrubber wash tower. The natural alkalinity of seawater neutralises the acids in the wastewater effluent. 

Closed loop systems: Recirculated seawater or freshwater is treated with an alkaline chemical before entering the wash tower to scrub the exhaust gases. A small amount of the wash water is bled-off to a treatment plant before discharge to sea, or they can be run in ‘zero discharge’ mode where the effluent is held in a tank. 

Hybrid systems: Hybrid systems can operate in either open or closed loop mode. Depending on design, they may operate with either freshwater or seawater when in closed loop mode. 


  • Capex typically US$3-5m with payback period expected to be reasonably short
  • Expected low fuel costs – some market analysts have forecasted high sulphur fuels to plummet in 2020
  • The lower fuel costs may make the vessel more attractive to time charterers


  • Systems and equipment require lot of space
  • High power demands resulting in around a 3-5% increase in fuel consumption
  • Concerns about maintenance demands and reliability which could result in periods of non-compliance
  • The long term viability of EGCS could be impacted by any future legislation on wastewater effluent discharge standards
  • The availability of high sulphur fuels post-2020 is unknown and some refineries could divert streams elsewhere if not profitable
  • The time required to retrofit EGCS on an existing vessel could take several weeks and require the vessel to be out of service

Compliance option 4: Burn LNG
One of the main drivers for shipowners to turn to LNG as a marine fuel is that it emits zero SOx and virtually zero particulate matter.

LNG is natural gas - predominantly methane (CH4) - in liquid form. Exact composition depends on source and generally contains a mix of heavier hydrocarbons (such as butane and ethane) with some contaminants such as CO2, water and nitrogen.

To make storage and handling manageable, it is condensed into a liquid at close to atmospheric pressure by cooling it to approx. -162°C.


  • Generally regarded as a very clean fuel and may be more resilient to any future changes in environmental legislation than the alternatives. 
  • Lower fuel costs
  • Green credentials


  • Relatively high capex (upgrade to gas or dual-fuel engines and storage and handling system) with expected long payback period
  • Limited infrastructure of LNG supply therefore restricting worldwide trading
  • Bunkering challenges – higher risk operation and strictly controlled
  • High delivery costs push up the real cost of fuel
  • Lower energy density compared with traditional marine fuels – therefore more volume needed
  • The global warming potential (GWP) of methane is significantly higher than CO2
  • Large tanks and restrictions on their position can result in loss of cargo carrying capacity
  • Crew will require additional training in bunkering, storing and managing LNG

Compliance option 5: Use other alternative energy sources
There are a number of alternative fuels or energy sources that are either available or currently in development. It is understood the take-up of these options is low and where they have been adopted, they are one of several modes used on board – pieces of the multi-fuel jigsaw. 

These include: 
Methanol (CH3OH): Easy to manage and store but main challenges are its low flash point and relatively poor energy density.

Hydrogen fuel cells: Fuel cell systems use an electro-chemical reaction to generate electricity. Strong green credentials but there are concerns on their high cost, size and weight and expected life. 

Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG): Composition can vary but consists mainly of propane, butane and propylene. Similar positives and challenges to that of LNG as a marine fuel. 

Batteries: A low-maintenance (and arguably low-carbon) solution is battery power but the current technology does not meet the needs of an oceangoing vessel. When the technological breakthrough on batteries happens, could this be the game-changer? 

Published: 17 July, 2018

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Port & Regulatory

X-Press Feeders inks MoU with six European ports for green shipping corridors

Firm signed a MoU with Ports of Antwerp Bruges, Tallinn, Helsinki, HaminaKotka, Freeport of Riga and Klaipeda Port to develop infrastructure for provision and bunkering of alternative bunker fuels, among others.





X-Press Feeders inks MoU with six European ports for green shipping corridors

Singapore-based global maritime container shipping company X-Press Feeders on Friday (5 April) signed of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with six European ports: Port of Antwerp Bruges (Belgium), Port of Tallinn (Estonia), Port of Helsinki (Finland), Port of HaminaKotka (Finland), Freeport of Riga (Latvia) and Klaipeda Port (Lithuania).

This landmark agreement signifies a joint commitment to accelerate the establishment of green shipping corridors and the broader decarbonisation of the marine sector in Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea. Through this MOU, X-Press Feeders and the participating ports will pool resources and expertise to develop and implement sustainable practices for maritime operations.

Under the MOU:

  • Parties will work together to further develop infrastructure for the provision and bunkering of alternative fuels such as green methanol,
  • Encourage the development of supply chains for fuel that are zero or near to zero in terms of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Provide further training programs for port workers and seafarers with regards to the handling of alternative fuels
  • Leverage digital platforms to enhance port call optimisation
  • Parties will have regular meetings to update and discuss progress on actions for further developing green shipping corridors.

The MOU underscores the collective dedication to broader decarbonisation efforts within the maritime sector.

The collaboration between the parties will begin with the establishment of these two shipping routes:

  • Green Baltic X-PRESS (GBX): Rotterdam > Antwerp Bruges > Klaipeda > Riga > Rotterdam
  • Green Finland X-PRESS (GFX): Rotterdam > Antwerp Bruges > Helsinki > Tallinn > HaminaKotka > Rotterdam

These services are scheduled to commence in Q3 2024, marking a significant step towards more environmentally sustainable shipping services in Europe. This development is significant as these will be the very first scheduled feeder routes in Europe powered by green methanol, an alternative fuel that produces at least 60% less greenhouse gas emissions than conventional marine fuel.

X-Press Feeders’ green methanol is sourced from fuel supplier OCI Global. The green methanol is made from green hydrogen and the decomposition of organic matter, such as waste and residues. 

OCI’s green methanol is independently certified by the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) Association headquartered in Germany. The ISCC system promotes and verifies the sustainable production of biomass, circular and bio-based materials and renewables.

X-Press Feeders’ Chief Operating Officer, Francis Goh, said: “By working together – X-Press Feeders and the six partner ports – aim to efficiently implement green shipping corridors and lead the maritime industry in sustainability. We chose the Nordic and Baltic states as the first markets to deploy our green methanol powered vessels because we found the ports and our customers in these markets to be very receptive.”

“This MoU represents a significant milestone in our commitment to a sustainable future for the maritime industry. By collaborating with these leading European ports, we can collectively drive the adoption of green technologies that accelerate the decarbonisation of our industry.”

Vladas Motiejūnas, Harbor Master of the Port of Klaipėda, said: “In recent years, Klaipeda Port has taken significant strides towards sustainability. This year marks the commencement of construction for green hydrogen production and refuelling stations at the port, along with the implementation of shore-side power supply (OPS) stations for roll-on/roll-off ferries.”

“Furthermore, Klaipeda Port proudly enters 2024 with the Port Environmental Review System (PERS) certification, underscoring our commitment to environmental stewardship. Already, methanol bunkering operations are available at Klaipeda Port.”

“The integration of Klaipeda Port into environmentally sustainable shipping services by X-Press Feeders is a testament to our unwavering dedication to fostering a greener port.”


Photo credit: X-Press Feeders
Published: 8 April 2024

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LNG Bunkering

Titan completes successful LNG bunkering op of E&S Tankers ship in Antwerp

Bunker barge “FlexFueler001” delivered 110 mt of LNG bunker fuel to chemical tanker “Liselotte Esberger”, marking a milestone since it was the first time Titan delivered to a vessel of E&S Tankers.





Titan completes successful LNG bunkering op of E&S Tankers ship in Antwerp

LNG bunker fuel supplier Titan on Monday (19 February) said it executed a successful LNG bunkering operation for E&S Tankers, a joint venture of Essberger Tankers and Stolt Tankers as an operator of chemical tankers within Europe. 

The refuelling operation took place at the port of Antwerp on 15 January. 

“Our vessel, FlexFueler001, flawlessly delivered 110 mt of LNG to the Liselotte Esberger, marking a milestone since it is the first time we deliver to a vessel of E&S Tankers,” it said in a social media post. 

“This operation underscores our dedication to sustainable shipping practices and showcases our commitment to environmentally friendly solutions. We're proud to collaborate with E&S Tankers and look forward to furthering our shared mission.”

Titan completes successful LNG bunkering op of E&S Tankers ship in Antwerp

According to E&S Tankers website, the 7,135 dwt Liselotte Essberger arrived in Hamburg from a shipyard in China on 5 December 2023 and was christened the following day.  

The vessel is first of a total of four newbuildings ordered by the firm that are equipped with LNG dual-fuel engines.

Related: E&S Tankers launches second LNG dual fuel chemical tanker “John T. Essberger”


Photo credit: Titan and E&S Tankers
Published: 20 February, 2024

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Shipping Corridor

Report: Korea-US-Japan green shipping corridors can lead to significant environmental impact

Creating green shipping corridors between South Korea, the United States and Japan’s top two busiest routes can reduce up to 41.3 million tCO2 each year, says Korean NPO Solutions for Our Climate.





Report: Korea-US-Japan green shipping corridors can lead to significant environmental impact

Korea-based non-profit organisation Solutions for Our Climate (SFOC) on Tuesday (13 February) said creating green shipping corridors between South Korea, the United States and Japan's top two busiest routes – Busan-Tokyo and Yokohama; Busan-Los Angeles and Long Beach– can reduce up to 41.3 million tCO2 each year. 

This is equivalent to annual emissions from over 9 million passenger vehicles in the United States.

“We evaluated the anticipated impact of several proposed KoreaUnited States-Japan green shipping corridors involving ports of Busan (KRPUS), Incheon (KRINC), and Gwangyang (KRKAN) —South Korea’s three major container ports,” SFOC said in the report. 

Each of the three South Korean ports will have the most significant environmental impact if connected to ports of Tokyo (JPTYO)/Yokohama (JPYOK) in Japan and ports of Los Angeles (USLAX)/Long Beach (USLGB) in the United States. 

“If container ships that travel KRPUS – JPTYO/ JPYOK and KRPUS – USLAX/USLGB are converted to zero emission ships, we can expect significant reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions, approximately 20.7 million tCO2 and 20.6 million tCO2, respectively,” it added. 

Accordingly, reducing GHG emissions in the global maritime shipping will require coordinated multilateral commitments and actions.

The green shipping corridor initiative is a global effort to align the shipping industry with the 1.5°C trajectory. It aims to:

  • Create maritime routes in which mainly zero-emission ships travel
  • Run ports with 100 percent renewable energy
  • Enforce mandatory use of on-shore power for docked vessels.

“With increasing global shipping emissions, green corridors are key to decarbonising the sector,” SFOC said. 

“Our latest report on green corridors comes on the heels of South Korea and the United States' announcement to work together to implement cross-country green shipping corridors between several of their key ports.”


Photo credit: Solutions for Our Climate
Published: 14 February, 2024

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