Britain has suspended checks on ships for compliance with low sulphur fuel regulations as part of wider measures that cut back on inspections to reduce the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on supply chains, the coastguard authority said on Friday.
The coronavirus has created growing logistical problems for freight as countries try to keep goods moving despite lockdown in many parts of the world.
At the start of the year, regulations came into effect – known as MARPOL Annex VI – that make it mandatory for ships to use fuel with a sulphur content of 0.5%, down from 3.5% previously, or to install devices, known as scrubbers, that strip out the toxic pollutant.
Enforcement of the rules, which have shaken up oil and shipping markets, is up to port and flag states.
Britain’s suspension of the checks is one of first indications of the challenges in enforcing the IMO regulations posed by the spread of the coronavirus.
Britain’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which is responsible for maritime regulation, safety and counter-pollution, said it has enacted measures to keep freight moving.
“In terms of enforcing IMO 2020 and ultimately MARPOL Annex VI requirements, as we have suspended port state control inspections, this also means that the checking of compliant fuel has been suspended,” an MCA spokeswoman said, referring to the regulations, which were enacted by United Nations shipping agency the IMO.
“However, as a responsible regulator, we are continuing to monitor vessels that call at UK ports. If, as a result of reviewing information sent to us, we think it’s appropriate, we will inspect those vessels.”
The MCA said it had suspended ship survey and inspection activity, and relaxed rules such as extensions on ship certificates – all needed to enter ports.
“While we can’t compromise on safety, there are a number of temporary measures we have and are taking to ensure shipping doesn’t come to a standstill and seafarers can keep working,” Katy Ware, MCA director of maritime safety and standards, said in a statement this week.
(Reporting by Jonathan Saul; editing by Barbara Lewis)