Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

There's One Born Every Minute


March 1, 2018

Many in the maritime industry have been proactive in calling for the establishment of international standards controlling air emissions from ships. In 2007, the World Shipping Council supported the most stringent standards ever proposed for nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx), and particulate matter (PM) emissions from ships. These standards are now in force and are projected to result in significant air quality improvements.

The IMO has agreed that beginning January 1st, 2020 the maximum permissible sulphur content of marine fuel (outside of Emission Control Areas) will be reduced from 3.5 percent to 0.5 percent. The world’s shipping lines have been preparing for the reduction and are also engaged in discussions at the IMO and with the European Commission that seek to reduce carbon emissions generated by the shipping sector.

Meanwhile, a group of environmental special interests, including the Friends of the Earth, Pacific Environment and World Wildlife Fund, as well as the Clean Shipping Coalition, have issued a press release calling for the prohibition of carriage of fuels with a sulphur content of more than 0.5 percent by shipping lines worldwide. The IMO mandate already applies to the vessels currently burning fuel that would be affected by this ban, so the effort would seem to be pointless.

And yet a group of shipping associations has agreed to the prohibition.

In a joint press release with the aforementioned environmental organizations, the carrier associations BIMCO (The Baltic and White Sea Conference), International Chamber of Shipping, IPTA (International Parcel Tankers Association), World Shipping Council, CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) and INTERTANKO (International Association of Independent Tanker Owners) have signed on to help these environmental organizations forever remove the possibility of using these fuels. The press release claims that an exception would be made for vessels using an approved alternative compliance method, but that exception doesn’t appear in the actual proposal.

If these shipping lines think they’ve made new friends in the environmental community, they’re mistaken.

To preemptively eliminate the possibility of using the less expensive and more efficient fuel in an environmentally friendly manner is ill-advised. Reducing emissions is admirable, and there’s good reason for industry to commit to overall emission reductions regardless of mandate by a governing body, but voluntarily prohibiting the carriage, let alone use, of fuels with elevated sulphur content in order to please these environmental groups is simply shortsighted masochism. Does anyone at these shipping organizations believe for one minute that Friends of the Earth would show industry the same courtesy?

Meanwhile, technology is progressing by leaps and bounds. At press time Elon Musk and his company SpaceX had just launched rocket into space, and recovered the booster engines, which returned to earth and landed themselves, a feat that would have been unthinkable ten years ago.

Scrubber technology is also advancing. In 2013, Carnival Cruise Lines committed $180 million to install exhaust gas cleaning systems on 32 ships, and there is reason to believe that scrubber technology will get better and less costly.

No good deed goes unpunished, and shipping lines will continue to be vilified by the environmental special interests in spite of this effort. We are reminded of the famous showman P.T. Barnum, who has been quoted as saying, “There’s a new sucker born every minute.” Surrendering the ability to carry fuels for no other reason than to please Friends of the Earth is a sucker’s game.

Chris can be reached at


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