From 1 January 2020, Regulation 14 of MARPOL Annex VI provides that the sulphur content in fuel oil used on board ships shall be reduced from a maximum limit of 3.5% to a maximum limit of 0.5% (the limit in emission control areas remains at 0.1%). Regulation 4 of MARPOL Annex VI permits equivalent methods of compliance provided such methods are at least as effective in terms of emissions reductions.
Whilst it is up to individual port state control and flag states to implement and enforce MARPOL Annex VI, the use of Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems ("Scrubbers") is widely expected to be a legitimate option as an equivalent method of compliance.
The anticipated key financial benefit for Owners that have invested or are considering in investing in Scrubber-fitted vessels, is that there will be substantial savings in the cost of trading the vessels due to the expected price differential between fuels with a high sulphur content and 'compliant' fuels with a low sulphur content. For example, this week press reports suggest that the fuels currently being traded result in a price differential of about $150-$250 per mt between 0.5% sulphur fuels and high sulphur fuels and predict a price differential of over $400 per mt in 2020 (the differential between high sulphur fuels and 0.1% sulphur fuels is greater).1
Owners have various options available to them in terms of benefitting from the expected fuel differential for Scrubber-fitted vessels.
For example, if Owners are spot trading their Scrubber-fitted vessels, typically it is Owners that pay for the fuel so Owners will therefore benefit from the lower costs of burning high sulphur fuels. If Owners are time chartering their vessel, typically under a time charterparty Charterers will pay for the fuel so Charterers will therefore benefit from the lower costs of burning high sulphur fuel. In consideration for providing this benefit under a time charter, Owners may simply demand a higher charter rate or a 'scrubber premium' on the market charter rate.
Alternatively, there are a number of creative ways in which Owners and Charterers can share the benefit of the expected or actual fuel savings for Scrubber-fitted vessels. One of these ways is through implementing a fuel...