Hughes left the IMO last month to set up a consultancy. Image Credit: IMO
The COVID-19 pandemic may be postponing the real impact of IMO 2020, according to one of the key International Maritime Organization (IMO) officials behind the new 0.50% bunker fuel sulfur cap.
Edmund Hughes oversaw the IMO’s emissions regulation policies for much of the last decade until last month, when he stepped down as the UN body’s head of air pollution and energy efficiency to set up a consultancy.
In an interview with Ship & Bunker last week Hughes said he was “delighted” at the “reasonably smooth transition” so far, but warned that the current global disruption to shipping being caused by the coronavirus may mean that some of the problems around IMO 2020 are not felt until later this year.
“I was expecting this month and the next month, if we hadn’t had the virus situation arise, to be very important months, because they would have been when the carriage ban came in and there would have been more enforcement by port state control,” he said.
The IMO’s ban on the carriage of bunker fuels with higher than 0.50% sulfur for ships without scrubbers came into effect on March 1, empowering port state control authorities to check vessels leaving their waters for non-compliant fuels that they might be planning to use elsewhere.
“As is, we’re still in a sort of transitional phase, and later this year, should things revert to ‘normal,’ we might see more issues arising again,” Hughes added.
“But at the same time, ship operators, and most importantly ships’ engineers, are gaining more experience and understanding of the new fuels and how to manage effectively any risks associated with them.”
Hughes said one of his main jobs in the run-up to 2020 was to provide certainty to the market that the change in the sulfur limit for bunkers was happening and would not be postponed.
My role … was to make it clear this was a rule that was not going to change.
“My role and the role of the secretariat of the IMO, especially the secretary general, was to make it clear this was a rule that was not going to change, to give the market confidence that it was going to happen,” he said.
“The fact that there was a positive response is a credit to the industry — one which is often criticised.
“To make a political point out of it, this is why having a global regulator is such a powerful thing for shipping; there’s not many other sectors where you can have a regulation that applies around the world on one day.”
Gamekeeper Turned Poacher
Hughes’s new consultancy, Green Marine Associates, will provide advice to companies and organisations, mostly in the shipping industry, on policy and regulation relating to air pollution, decarbonisation and other marine environment risks.
“There are many other there who don’t quite understand how the shipping industry works; they don’t understand the various stakeholders, who makes decisions and what the implications of their decisions are, they don’t understand the regulatory environment,” he said.
“If you’re looking to invest in new technology or new fuels, you need to have a better understanding of all this — otherwise you’re investing in the dark.”