From 1 January 2020, Regulation 14 of MARPOL Annex VI provides that the sulphur content in fuel oil used on board ships shall be reduced from a maximum limit of 3.5% to a maximum limit of 0.5% (the limit in emission control areas remains at 0.1%). Regulation 4 of MARPOL Annex VI permits equivalent methods of compliance provided such methods are at least as effective in terms of emissions reductions.
Whilst it is up to individual port state control and flag states to implement and enforce MARPOL Annex VI, the use of Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (“Scrubbers”) is widely expected to be a legitimate option as an equivalent method of compliance.
The anticipated key financial benefit for Owners that have invested or are considering in investing in Scrubber-fitted vessels, is that there will be substantial savings in the cost of trading the vessels due to the expected price differential between fuels with a high sulphur content and ‘compliant’ fuels with a low sulphur content. For example, this week press reports suggest that the fuels currently being traded result in a price differential of about $150-$250 per mt between 0.5% sulphur fuels and high sulphur fuels and predict a price differential of over $400 per mt in 2020 (the differential between high sulphur fuels and 0.1% sulphur fuels is greater).1
Owners have various options available to them in terms of benefitting from the expected fuel differential for Scrubber-fitted vessels.
For example, if Owners are spot trading their Scrubber-fitted vessels, typically it is Owners that pay for the fuel so Owners will therefore benefit from the lower costs of burning high sulphur fuels. If Owners are time chartering their vessel, typically under a time charterparty Charterers will pay for the fuel so Charterers will therefore benefit from the lower costs of burning high sulphur fuel. In consideration for providing this benefit under a time charter, Owners may simply demand a higher charter rate or a ‘scrubber premium’ on the market charter rate.
Alternatively, there are a number of creative ways in which Owners and Charterers can share the benefit of the expected or actual fuel savings for Scrubber-fitted vessels. One of these ways is through implementing a fuel profit-sharing scrubber clause (“FPS Scrubber Clause”) into the time charterparty. It has been reported in the press recently that these are being used with good effect by some owners to keep charter rates competitive.2
There are a number of different legal, operational and commercial factors which will have to be considered in negotiating and drafting FPS Scrubber Clauses and so it is unlikely there is a one-size fits all FPS Scrubber Clause that can be applied across the market. By way of example, the ongoing delay to an intended Bimco industry-standard scrubber clause is illustrative of the complexity and competing interests at play. For example, if owners are bearing the majority of the capital risk and operational risk of the Scrubber, then should owners be entitled to the majority of the benefit of the fuel differential? In the event that the Scrubber is not operational for technical or regulatory reasons, who is responsible for providing compliant low sulphur fuel?
An FPS Scrubber Clause is an innovative way for Owners and Charterers to allocate the anticipated risks and benefits of complying with the implementation of MARPOL Annex VI from 1 January 2020 through the use of Scrubbers. James Kennedy and Fanos Theophani have been involved in the negotiation and drafting of FPS Scrubber Clauses and are well placed to advise and assist the market on these issues.
1 “Songa Container pioneers profit-sharing scrubber clause” Tradewinds 30 August 2019
2 “IMO2020: RAI 2020 Marine Fuel Availability Study Re-Boot” Ship and Bunker 3 September 2019, and “IMO2020: Rollercoaster HSFO Prices Send Singapore VLSFO Premiums Under $85/mt” Ship and Bunker 30 August 2019