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Two-year jail terms for sulphur cap abusers in Singapore

PortandTerminal.com, April 4, 2019

In the run-up to the 2020 sulphur cap, MPA Singapore has warned captains and owners of ships that are caught burning non-compliant fuel, that they could face up to two years in prison. In addition, other penalties can also take place, such as a fine of up to S$10,000 ($7,400).

Singapore – Captains and owners of vessels that burn overly sulphurous fuel in Singapore’s territorial waters could face up to two years in prison from the start of 2020, according to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.

If enforced, such a penalty would probably be among the strongest deterrents yet to dodging regulations that are supposed to cut emissions of a pollutant blamed for asthma and acid rain.

From next year, the ships must emit 85% less sulphur in most parts of the world than they do in most places today.

As the top bunkering port in the world, Singapore’s move makes a very strong statement to the industry as a whole about its seriousness in addressing air pollution and the 2020 sulphur cap.

Bloomberg reported that the world’s second-biggest port said that ships that fail to use an approved abatement technology such as a scrubber, alternative fuel or compliant fuel will also be considered non-compliant.

The MPA didn’t clarify precisely what rule infringement would incur a prison sentence. Other penalties include a fine of up to S$10,000 (US$7,400).

Based on precedent in the US, the harshest penalties would likely be imposed if there were exacerbating factors like falsification of documents or obstructing justice, according to Magdalene Chew, a director at AsiaLegal LLC and Wole Olufunwa, a senior associate at Holman Fenwick Willan in Singapore.

Singapore already has strict laws on air pollution have just become stricter in the run-up to 2020  Photo: PSA

The most severe penalty Singapore ever imposed for breaches of maritime air pollution regulations was more than two decades ago, said Chew and Olufunwa.

Then, a vessel’s owners, master and agents, who all pleaded guilty, were fined S$400,000 ($US 300,000) each for “flagrant disregard of any concern for the marine environment.” The ship’s master also received a three-month prison term for an oil spill charge, according to the law firms.

Such penalties matter far beyond the confines of individual port states because there’s an expectation that many owners – particularly in Asia – could start by ignoring the sulphur-emission rules.

The extent to which that happens will have an impact on the maritime industry’s fuel-buying patterns. However, with thousands of ships each year stopping at Singapore to refuel while en route to other parts of Asia, the country’s deterrent could make many owners – and ship captains – more wary of cheating.

The penalties could mean tougher times for shipping firms as they prepare for the rules. To comply, companies can either purchase more expensive, cleaner fuel with less than 0.5% sulphur content, or they can install pollution-reducing scrubbers that let them keep using oil with a higher sulphur content.

To make matters worse, analysts question whether sufficient low-sulphur fuel will be available in time.

“MPA is also working closely with the industry to ease the transition to the requirements under the IMO 2020 regulations,” a spokesperson said, adding that the authority has issued technical guides, along with the Singapore Shipping Association, on options available for ship operators to comply.

The authority will inspect both Singapore-registered ships as well as foreign-flagged vessels visiting the port, and employ fuel-testing service providers for detailed laboratory analysis of fuel samples.

It will also deploy electronic systems for ships to declare their method of compliance before arrival.

Along with other nations, Singapore already banned open-loop scrubbers from discharging wash water, the waste liquid containing impurities after airborne sulphur emissions have been removed.

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