The introduction of new sulphur limits in marine fuel has led to a 70% drop in emissions from shipping, according to a statement by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on 28 January.

This drop in emissions was “testament to the preparations” all stakeholders had made prior to the rule coming into force, the IMO said on its website.

The IMO 2020 ruling reduced the amount of sulphur allowed in marine fuel oil from 3.5% to 0.5%.

In 2020, there were only 55 reported cases of 0.5% compliant fuel not being available, according to IMO’s Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS).

"Given that more than 60,000 ships plied the world's oceans in trade last year, this was a remarkably low percentage of ships encountering difficulty in obtaining compliant fuel. We had a great deal of preparation during 2019 and before from all stakeholders and all indications are that there have been no significant issues with supply of low sulphur fuel oil,” IMO head of air pollution and energy efficiency Roel Hoenders said.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, cargo-carrying ships had continued to deliver goods and commodities, including essential foods and medicines, around the world and the introduction and implementation of IMO 2020 had not caused any disruptions in trade, the IMO said.

The IMO said the majority of ships trading worldwide had switched from using HFO to using very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO), which were new blends of fuel oil produced by refineries to meet the new limit, in accordance with IMO guidance and ISO standards. IMO said it had not received any reports of safety issues linked to VLSFO to date.

Some ships had also adopted exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS or ‘scrubbers’), allowing the continued use of HFO. This was accepted under the MARPOL Convention as an alternative means to meet the sulphur limit requirement. Over 2,350 EGCS had formally been reported to IMO as an approved "equivalent method".

Ships could also have engines which were able to use different fuels, containing low or zero sulphur, such as liquefied natural gas or biofuels.