BEGINNING in 2017, ships will be required to use low-sulfur fuels in China’s three busiest port regions, but the regulation could be sabotaged by an International Maritime Organization (IMO) plan to use cleaner fuel worldwide from 2020.
The decision of the IMO following a conference this week in London could actually undermine the Chinese pollution-reduction plan, as it would only mandate ships to use fuel containing no more than 0.5 percent sulfur from December, 2020.
Under China’s current plan, the 0.5 percent limit would be applied beginning next year in the Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta and Bohai Bay. Beginning in 2019, low-sulfur fuel would be required anywhere within China’s 12 nautical mile marine zone.
The move is considered significant because thousands of ships, mostly container vessels, are active in Chinese waters or port areas daily.
The IMO’s new rules still have to go through a process of developing monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, and might be delayed beyond the 2020 deadline. If the IMO plan goes forward, however, the international rules might supercede China’s national regulation, delaying implementation of a low-sulfur regime for at least three years.
By the same token, experts warn, a long delay in implementing global standards could hurt China in a different way, by driving shipping customers to nearby countries with less stringent standards.
Some ports in China have already implemented the low-sulfur rule according to Chinadialogue. In April of this year, the rule was imposed in Shanghai and three other terminals in the Yangtze River Delta, followed this month by Shenzhen. The online report also noted that a similar program is already in place in Hong Kong.
At present, ships are free to use fuel containing as much as 3.5 percent sulfur, which is a significant health hazard. According to reports by non-governmental organizations Seas at Risk and Transport & Environment, nearly 135,000 premature deaths in Asia can be traced to pollution from marine shipping sources.