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March 7, 2010

ABS holds Athens seminar on low sulfur fuel issues

More than 190 members of the Greek shipowning and operating community attended an Athens seminar on issues associated with requirements to burn low sulfur fuels in the existing Sulfur Emissions Control Areas (SECAs) and in European Ports. Hosted by classification society ABS the event including a presentation from marine machinery service provider Harris Pye.

"The industry is already dealing with the introduction of the low sulfur mandate in European ports that took effect January 1 and in California coastal waters. However, industry needs to be prepared for lower sulfur content requirements in the current and future emission control areas," said ABS Assistant Chief Surveyor, Europe, Dimitrios Houliarakis.

"The allowable sulfur content of the fuel to be burnt in the SECAs will be 1 percent from July 1, 2010," he added. "And the allowable sulfur content will be further reduced to 0.1 perecnt in 2015. There is a sense of urgency associated with compliance with the requirements in the European ports, but the planning for the future demands of low sulfur fuels in the SECAs, which will be called Emission Control Areas (ECAs) from July 1, 2010, is also important."

Most ship machinery plants have been designed to operate primarily using lower cost heavy fuel oil (HFO) with provision for occasional operation using marine diesel oil (MDO). For some smaller diesel engine ships and most high speed ships, such as fast ferries, MDO is the primary fuel used.

However, the new 0.1 percent sulfur limits will probably require burning marine gas oil in most instances and it can be expected that further emission control areas and local and regional regulations as apply, for example off the coast of California, can be expected in the near future. The U.S. and Canada, for instance, have applied to IMO for the designation of a 200 mile ECA around the East and West Coast of the North American continent as well as Hawaii, and if adopted, the ECA may be effective in 2012.

Most ship machinery plants have not been designed to operate using marine gas oil (MGO) and, if not properly planned, there are potential difficulties that can arise during the fuel switching process and during sustained operation. These stem from the need to carefully control the temperature at which the lighter fuel is handled and take account of the reduced lubricity of the low sulfur and low viscosity fuels on the fuel pumps.

ABS gave attendees at the Athens event a comprehensive analysis of the issues involved contained in its ABS Fuel Switching Advisory Notice. The 36-page document also contains the requirements of the classification society and the operational guidance provided to owners to properly carry out the changeover from heavy to marine gas oils for both the main engine and the auxiliary boilers.

A presentation on "Low Sulfur Fuels: ABS Guidance & Compliance" explained the class society's requirements and the approach it has adopted to assist owners seeking to demonstrate to EU member states that they have an approved plan in place to comply with the new restrictions when at berth in the member state's ports.

"Environmental protection is rapidly becoming the most important operating issue facing the shipping industry today," says Kirsi Tikka, ABS Vice President of Global Technology and Business Development who leads the organization's environmental programs. "The issue of emissions is front and center in the various moves to impose restrictions on the manner in which shipowners have traditionally operated their vessels.

"There is no doubt that there will be a lot of changes still to come and a lot of accepted practices will have to be modified, together with the equipment," she warns. "As a class society, ABS sees its role as one of guidance for the industry to best understand what is required, what will be required and to assess the alternatives that are available to facilitate compliance."


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