The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) announced it was conducting research throughout 2021 into how Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oils (VLSFOs) behave if spilled into the Australian marine environment. 

The purpose of the study is to develop national arrangements, policies and principles for the management of maritime environmental emergencies under the National Plan for Maritime Environmental Emergencies, and thus minimize the impacts of marine pollution from such incidents

To support the objective of the plan, AMSA is collecting VLSFOs from visiting ships to analyse their properties and to better understand the behavior of these new fuels.

“VLSFOs are relatively new to the shipping industry and it is important that we understand how they might behave if spilled in Australian waters,” AMSA’s Senior Advisor, Strategic Risk, and Science, Paul Irving, said. 

“From the initial seven samples we analysed, it is pretty clear that these VLSFOs are very diverse and variable in their manufacture and presentation. This gives us hope that they may present a lower threat should they be spilled, but we need to confirm that with a larger study.

“We are now expanding our research by collecting more samples. These will come from a whole range of ship types and a much wider – worldwide – sample of ships coming to Australia.” 

AMSA’s Executive Director Response, Mark Morrow said the team was working to understand how to protect the Australian environment in the best possible way and be ready should such incidents occur.

“Australia’s economic wellbeing relies on shipping. We also have some of the most beautiful, pristine environments in the world; full of diverse marine life, often very close to shipping lanes and ports,” said Morrow. 

“These are time sensitive incidents, so the more we know about how different pollutants behave when they hit the water, the better. 

“Should a spill occur, my team needs to understand what they are dealing with and how best to respond. We should also be able to provide that advice to state and industry responders, as well as the Australian community. The safety of those who carry out such important work is a high priority.”

With the entrance into force of the IMO 2020 Sulphur Cap, VLSFOs have been the dominant option for the global fleet to comply with the new regulation. A year and a half into its implementation, the transition to 0.50% sulphur fuels has been described as a rather smooth one, despite fears on the availability and reliability of the new fuel blends.

The issue of the quality of the new bunkers and the level of their black carbon emissions is yet to be discussed at the IMO level. For the most part, the implementation of the IMO 2020 and its impact on the market have been overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic’s shattering effect on the global economies and trade patterns.

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