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MARPOL 2020 represents a significant change in the marine fuels landscape. Find out what BP is doing and how we are supporting our customers in their journey to 2020 and beyond

In 1973, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) agreed a series of measures to prevent pollution from marine and shipping operations (MARPOL Convention). The Convention was modified in 1997 to address sulphur emissions from ships by introducing a global cap on the sulphur content of marine fuel oil and an additional limit in specific waters, referred to as emission control areas, or ECAs.


The sulphur limit in marine fuels has been reduced over time for both the global limit and within the ECAs. The next step change will reduce the global cap on sulphur content for general shipping from 3.50%wt to 0.50%wt from 1st January 2020. This is commonly referred to as MARPOL 2020.



Implementation of this latest development of the MARPOL Convention will re-shape the marine fuels landscape.



What is BP doing?

BP supports the reduction in air pollution from ships that the global sulphur cap will bring.


We are actively working to reduce uncertainty by supporting our partners across the industry to prepare for a low sulphur future. We will be attending and speaking at industry events leading up to 2020 in order to understand the concerns of our partners and build a response plan that meets their needs.


We have a detailed test programme to ensure the fuels we supply meet the requirements of the regulation and maintain our reputation as your trusted fuels supplier.


Our refineries have the capability to supply sufficient low sulphur fuel to meet the needs of MARPOL.


We will bring our heritage, expertise and global scale to help our customers plot a route to 2020 and beyond. *BP internal data.


What to avoid when mixing very low sulphur marine fuels

As part of BP’s preparation for MARPOL, we show the potential for sediment formation when two compliant and stable but incompatible 0.5% sulphur marine fuels are commingled.


The stable 0.5% sulphur fuels are representative of products expected to be available at various ports during the transition to IMO 2020 regulation implementation and beyond.


BP’s comprehensive test campaign has identified compliant and stable VLSFO blends to market during the transition to 2020 and beyond.

Options for compliance


BP will continue to work with our customers to supply safe, compliant and quality fuels, lubricants, products and services globally


VLSFO will be a new fuel option available in 2020.

  • As most VLSFO available will be blended, stability and compatibility will be key considerations.
  • Economic incentives are expected to drive increased use of VLSFO over time.           


The most familiar fuel option, MGO is widely available and operationally tested.

  • No fuel switching will be required. MGO can be used globally both inside and outside ports.  
  • As a distillate component, MGO is likely to be the most expensive option, with additional lubricant requirements.             


LNG fuel systems require specialist crew and we expect their use to be limited to new build vessels due to the expense of retrofitting.

  • Infrastructure for LNG bunkering will be less established than for other fuel types in 2020.
  • LNG has low NOx and SOx emissions. 


Scrubbers can be fitted to remove sulphur from exhaust gases and enable vessels to burn cheaper high sulphur fuels.

  • Scrubber installation time and cost has resulted in limited adoption so far.
  • Advances in technology are expected to make scrubbers an increasingly attractive solution.     
*BP internal data

Key considerations

Fuel availability

Fuel availability has become a common concern amongst vessel owners. We believe that the refining industry has the capability to supply sufficient low sulphur fuels to meet global bunker demand. Recent and ongoing investments have increased the capacity of fuel oil upgrading units globally. While local refinery systems may not always produce enough fuels to satisfy local bunker demand in 2020, disparities in supply and demand exist today and are balanced by an active and efficient global freight market.


BP expects over 90% of the global bunker market to comply with the 2020 sulphur cap as non-compliance creates significant risks. The IMO is developing guidelines for enforcement that are expected to make non-compliant bunkering operations traceable for several years. Noncompliance could result in fines, increased inspections in port and restrictions to operations for vessels, flag states and port authorities. 

Fuel stability and compatibility

Instability can be introduced during the blending process and as a result of commingling incompatible bunkers on board vessels. Vessel owners will need to prepare for increased bunker segregation, in line with standard procedures, to minimise the associated risks and work closely with their bunker suppliers to purchase compatible fuels.

Fuel safety

All marine fuels supplied will be required to meet the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requirements to be compliant, and indeed legal. Suppliers are contractually bound to supply compliant fuels. Buyers should continue to purchase fuels in line with ISO 8217 to ensure they receive on specification products. Quality fuel suppliers will ensure they are fully prepared to supply safe and compliant fuels on 1st January 2020.

MARPOL 2020 news