Updates to the US Coast Guard’s Policy on Vessel Exhaust Scrubber Approval

The new year has come and gone, and on the open seas that means one thing: IMO 2020. Beginning January 1, tough new limits on the sulfur content of marine fuels from ships have been set in motion with the goal of cutting down on the pollution in our oceans. For shipping companies who don’t comply, either by emitting higher-than-allowed levels of sulfur content or by not retrofitting their ships with special cleaning tools, they could find themselves the target of major fines.

The U.S. Coast Guard is helping to enforce the IMO 2020 rules with an update to its Guidelines for Compliance and Enforcement of the U.S. Emission Control Areas outline. In it, the Coast Guard included a procedural change to the way they validate a ship’s claim of an equivalency to fuel sulfur content standards.

With the new regulations barely being enforced, the effect this will have on the shipping company industry is still murky, creating somewhat of a waiting game. However, it’s still important for shipping companies and managers to make sure they are covered from major fines and regulatory issues. This can be handled with marine pollution insurance plans that can provide the resources needed to keep costs low, such as paying fines or paying for legal representation in the case of litigation.

A Look at IMO 2020

The new regulations require that vessels operating anywhere in the world must use marine fuel oil with a low sulfur content, not surpassing more than .5 percent by weight and vessels operating within Emission Control Areas (ECA’s) must use fuel oil with a sulfur content of not more than .1 percent by weight. This is a major change in what ships and shipping companies are used to as the previous marker hovered at 3.5 percent at sea and up to 1 percent in an ECA.

For shipping companies who don’t want to use alternative fuel in their ships, they do have the opportunity to use exhaust gas scrubbers that help to remove sulfur oxides from emissions.


In the U.S. Coast Guard’s original Guidelines, released back in July 2012, the Coast Guard stated it would review proposals for these types of equivalencies independently on foreign flag vessels. The updated version released last November reads that the Coast Guard will now lean on flag-state submissions made to the International Maritime Organization’s Global Integrated Shipping Information Systems.

The Coast Guard may have to look at the integrity of vessel records with investigations involving oil discharges. Oil tankers have been targeted for falsifying bunker delivery notes in connection with the use of any non-compliant fuel in the Caribbean area. Vessel managers have found themselves in the middle of investigations for falsifying a voyage plan document in order to obstruct an investigation by the Coast Guard.