Since 1 January 2020, ships are prohibited from using fuel containing more than 0.5% sulphur. The measure stems from new international regulations but will be much broader in Belgium. It is one of the action points in the Sustainable Shipping Plan that Minister De Backer concluded with the sector last year.
The role of shipping in the climate debate has long been an important issue. Many ships use so-called heavy residual fuels with a lot of sulphur in them. Such heavy sulphur fuels not only contribute greatly to air pollution but also have a direct and damaging impact on the environment. The Belgian shipping industry is therefore pleased that their use is being restricted worldwide.
“But the success of a good policy also depends on its enforcement” says Wilfried Lemmens, Managing Director of the KBRV. “In Belgium it has now been decided to additionally develop a chain approach, which runs from refinery to fuel tank.”
This holistic approach is a world first and should ensure that the clean fuel reaches the ship safely. Low-sulphur fuels are a fairly recent fact and, partly due to their high demand, the quality is daring to vary. It depends on the refinery and the resources used throughout the chain. “If a ship is given fuel of dubious quality, this not only has a negative impact on the environment, but also endangers the proper functioning of the ship and the safety of our people on board” Mr Lemmens emphasizes.
This approach in Belgium will not only lead to a fuel quality check at the refinery, but also at the bunker barge and the fuel tank. Belgian shipowners fully support this approach and welcome the use of these new low-sulphur fuels. “Unfortunately, in exceptional cases it is still possible to use the heavy residual fuels, especially when a ship has a scrubber on board” says Wilfried Lemmens. Scrubbers are systems that clean the exhaust gases and whereby the dirty washing water can then be discharged into the sea. “Belgian shipowners have not been in favour of the use of these for a long time, but international regulations still allow their use. We believe that the transition period towards clean fuel has already lasted long enough. The final step would now be to ban this loophole globally” concludes Mr. Lemmens.