IMO takes a closer look into bunker licensing schemes as fears for the safe implementation of the 2020 sulfur cap remain


The forthcoming implementation of the IMO-2020 appears to have increased the market awareness in regards with the problems arising from the archaic processes of the bunker market. As a result, IMO is recently called to introduce tighter regulation on bunker suppliers in an effort to avoid malpractices and establish a minimum standard on the quality of services offered.

During MEPC 74, IMO discussed the possibility of introducing a mandatory licensing scheme for bunker suppliers under MARPOL VI, part of which is also the IMO-2020 regulation. The proposal was brought forward by major shipping organisations – ICS, BIMCO, INTERTANKO, INTERCARGO, IPTA and WSC – who shared the view that the risks related with poor quality bunkers would be managed with the implementation of such a licensing scheme. The proposal was also supported by IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee.

Despite the fact that MEPC 74 rejected the mandatory implementation of such a licensing scheme over concerns about an increase in administrative burdens, it agreed to discuss the introduction of such a scheme on a voluntarily basis.

Such proposal will be further considered either at PPR 7 on February 2020 or during MEPC 75 which is scheduled to take place on about late March 2020. During the session it will be discussed a draft template of a bunker license which could be used by member states in their jurisdiction.

Considering that cross-border regulations for bunker suppliers do not yet exist, IMO makes the first step to this direction. Even if the new rules might not have a mandatory effect, they can create a common international framework for the first time in history.

Currently, Singapore is the only country where such a bunker licensing scheme exists while it is also under consideration from the authorities in ARA region, following shipowners’ complaints for poor service and mismatches in quantity of actual fuel delivered.

Recently, Singapore authorities have relied on the relevant regulation to revoke the bunker license of a bunker supplier after a malpractice on MFM was suspected. There are various voices in the market calling more countries to follow Singapore’s paradigm and introduce such a licensing scheme along with a broader enforcement framework.

The sponsors of this proposal believe that maintaining minimum standards for winning a bunker license will increase transparency, decrease malpractices and create fairer market conditions.


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