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Article: Sampling of fuel oil used on board (PSC enforcement criteria)

19 June 2019

Introduction

The importance of a suitably drawn and witnessed representative oil sample from fuel bunkers cannot be over-emphasised. It forms the basis of compliance verification and/or dispute resolution relating to the bunkering.

Regulation 18 of MARPOL Annex VI covers issues relating to fuel quality, sampling, and delivery requirements. However, this sampling requirement does not guarantee that ships will use the appropriate compliant fuel to comply with the 0.50% global sulphur cap requirement.

While the responsibility to comply with this regulation lies with the fuel oil suppliers, the reality is that the enforcement agencies generally look to ships to verify compliance.

The sixth session of IMO’s Sub-committee on Pollution Prevention & Response (PPR 6), held from 18 to 22 February 2019, agreed on draft amendments to Regulation 2 (Definitions) of MARPOL Annex VI to specify names for three types of samples which may be used by enforcement agencies for verification. These amendments were approved during the recent MEPC-74 meeting (13-17 May 2019), with an intention of simplifying the verification procedure for the fuel oil samples.

Enforcement measures

Low sulphur regulations are already being enforced at emission control areas (ECAs) since 1 January 2015. Port State Control (PSC) inspectors frequently scrutinise ships’ documentation and records such as fuel sampling and change-over procedures, bunker delivery notes (BDNs), log book and oil record book entries. See the club's previous handout which explains the different enforcement measures here

As the 2020 global sulphur cap looms, enforcement agencies may also consider the ship implementation plan (SIP) when verifying compliance. However, SIP, whilst highly recommended, is not mandatory and therefore its absence or inaccuracy should not form the basis for a PSC deficiency.

In some places, new technological advancements such as remote sensing, fuel sampling kits, drones and airborne sensors are being considered for the enforcement of the impending maritime environmental regulations. For example, see the update from the Danish Maritime Authority here

Following initial checks, and based on their clear grounds for suspected non-compliance, PSC inspectors may decide to obtain and verify the fuel oil samples. This could either be a representative sample provided with the BDN (sample obtained during bunkering), or a spot sample drawn from the ship’s fuel oil system, or from the ship’s bunker tanks. It is essential that the ship’s crew are well familiar with the MARPOL requirements and location of the sampling points onboard their vessel.

Fuel oil sampling

Under MARPOL Annex VI requirements, a BDN is to be retained on board for a minimum of three years. Every BDN is to be accompanied by a representative sample of the fuel supplied. The sample is to be retained on board for a minimum of twelve months. The sample is to be minimum 400 ml and provided with a label with information stating the location where the sample was taken, sampling method, bunker date, name of bunker barge/pier, receiving ship’s name and IMO No, sample seal number and bunker grade.

Every sample is to be sealed by the supplier and the label is to be signed by the officer in charge of the bunkering and the supplier’s representative. If the supplier does not provide a MARPOL sample or if the BDN does not contain all the required information, a notification to the ship’s flag state and the bunker port state should be issued.

In order to avoid any ambiguities during PSC inspections, amendments to the BDN entered into force on 1 January 2019. The revised BDN has introduced a ‘selection box’ for the ‘purchaser’s specified limit value’ of the sulphur content. This means that even fuels with higher sulphur content than required by regulation 14 of Annex VI can be delivered to a ship where the ship uses an equivalent measure, such as an exhaust gas cleaning system (EGCS).

In order to differentiate between the various spot samples of fuel oil, amendments to Regulation 2 were approved recently by MEPC-74 to provide definitions of ‘MARPOL delivered sample’, ‘in-use sample’, and ‘onboard sample’.

The ‘onboard sample’ will be vital as a means of verifying compliance with the ‘carriage ban’ that will be effective from 1 March 2020. However, additional guidelines will be needed to support the safe taking of samples from ships’ bunker tanks (as the samples obtained through a sounding pipe will not be representative of the content of that tank).

In order to facilitate the need for taking ‘in-use samples’, MEPC-74 approved a circular (MEPC.1/Circ.864/Rev.1) on the 2019 Guidelines for on board sampling for the verification of the sulphur content of the fuel oil used on board ships. The guidelines describe requirements for sampling locations and sample handling.

Under these guidelines, ships are required to designate or, if necessary, fit sampling points no later than the first IAPP renewal survey that occurs 12 months or more after the entry into force of the regulation, expected to be in 2021.

To ensure a consistent approach to verifying the sulphur limit of the fuel oil delivered to, in-use or carried for use on board a ship until the entry into force of the approved amendments, MEPC-74 also approved a circular (MEPC.1/Circ.881) inviting Member States to apply the approved amendments relating to the verification procedure, in advance of their entry into force.

Testing procedure

Another major change approved during MEPC-74 has been the amendments to the sulphur verification procedure (Appendix VI of MARPOL Annex VI) to handle accuracy and precision of test results of both current ‘MARPOL delivered’ sample as well as ‘in-use’ and ‘onboard’ sample defining when the max 0.50% sulphur limit is met.

MARPOL delivered sample would be considered ‘off-limit’ above 0.50% after following the verification procedure. However, for ‘in-use’ and ‘onboard’ samples, 95% confidence limit or test tolerance range would apply.

This means that when in-use fuel oil samples are taken by PSC and analysed for compliance, a sulphur content of up to 0.53% could be accepted as compliant. It will help ensure that members are not unfairly penalised for marginal exceedances in sulphur content due to factors beyond their control.

However, fuel oil supplied to ships by bunker suppliers must not exceed the 0.50% limit. This should help avoid potential scenarios where the sample taken during bunkering receives an acceptable test result only for the in-use fuel to be found non-compliant.

Recommendations

Members are recommended to refer to the IMO guidelines and review their fuel oil sampling procedures to ensure that samples can be drawn safely from the ship’s fuel service system when such sampling is requested by a PSC inspector. It is imperative that the ship’s crew are aware of the above-mentioned requirements and familiarised with the ship-specific system.

For ships not fitted with a dedicated/approved sampling point, it is recommended to check and propose a location for sampling in compliance with these guidelines and in accordance with Class rules.

If a sample is to be delivered to a shore laboratory or PSC for analysis, it is vital to secure a record of the sample custody transfer. The transfer should be recorded in the sample log with the BDN, with specific reference to:

  • the port, date and time of handover of the sample
  • the sample label details and seal number
  • the identity of the person to whom the sample was handed, together with the name, signature and authority stamp as appropriate
  • contact details of those who will hold the sample

Club’s cover

Members are reminded that club cover for fines arising from breaches of low-sulphur fuel regulations and other MARPOL violations is strictly discretionary. The board is entitled to take into consideration the zero-tolerance attitude towards reimbursement of liabilities and fines for environmental offences, save in the most exceptional circumstances.