Union Voices Sulphur Cap Concerns

Growing numbers of seafarers are becoming increasingly concerned over the threat of criminalisation when the new global sulphur cap comes into force next month.

Maritime professionals’ union, Nautilus International, has issued a warning over a potential new wave of seafarer criminalisation when new global curbs on Sulphur emissions in shipping come into force from 1 January 2020.

The Union said it has been told by members that many seafarers are increasingly alarmed by the prospect of being scapegoated for problems through no fault of their own, linked to the 0.5% cap on the Sulphur content of fuel.

Penalties for non-compliance with the new 0.5% limit will include big fines or lengthy jail sentences in some countries, as well as ship detentions. Within designated emission control areas (ECAs), the limit will remain at 0.10%.

Just over a year ago, in the first case of its kind, France fined the master of the P&O Cruises vessel Azura €100,000 for using fuel that was 0.18% over the Sulphur content limit, setting a precedent for criminalising masters for the quality of fuel on their vessels.

Nautilus added members have also highlighted a range of safety and operational concerns, including incidents of power loss when changing fuels, lubrication issues, filter problems and leaks.

Fuel change-overs have created considerable extra workloads, with engineers needing to take special care to deal with such challenges as contamination, compatibility, stability, viscosity and lubricity, combustion and ignition qualities, cat fines, cold flow properties, and flash points.

The Union’s professional and technical committee has discussed reports that low-Sulphur fuels are causing additional wear and tear on engine components, boilers, purifiers, filters, tanks, heat exchangers, and piping.

The warning follows a Nautilus Federation report, which earlier this year revealed that almost 90 per cent of seafarers are concerned about criminalisation in the industry and two thirds said it impacted on the way they felt about working in shipping.

Nautilus Professional and Technical Officer David Appleton said: “Whilst we firmly support the moves to improve the shipping industry’s environmental performance, it’s clear that IMO 2020 is imposing a massive new burden on seafarers, both in terms of workload and in their exposure to potentially huge fines and criminal convictions.”

“It’s essential that shipping companies do all they can to provide their masters, officers and crews with the training and resources required to ensure compliance with the new rules,” he added. “These are complex requirements, with complex and varied enforcement mechanisms, and our members need to be protected against the threat of legal proceedings arising from inadvertent infringement of the rules.”