The far greater challenge is what happens when the resulting costs become properly understood. As we have seen from the experience of Emission Control Areas, these are not costs the industry will be able to absorb. Its customers should therefore be paying close attention to what happens next.

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A pattern is emerging, similar to that seen in the lead-up to the 0.1% sulphur limit of 2015 within Emission Control Areas. The industry conversation was dominated by technical considerations of how carriers would manage.

Sulphur regulations are not getting a lot of attention from shippers at present but that should change given that the cost impact of 2020 is expected to dwarf that of 2015.

Fuel accounts for between one and two thirds of the total cost base for most shipping companies and some reasonable assumptions about the premium compared to heavy fuel oil put the increase at anywhere between 40-70% for low sulphur fuel.

As such it is hard to avoid the conclusion that even if shippers have not felt the effects of sulphur regulation until now, they are more likely to feel it 2020.

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So what should shippers ask of vessel owners and operators?

In depth knowledge of sulphur regulations and compliance options, together with a well-developed strategy for compliance and an open dialogue with customers should be expected. Shippers have an important role to play in ensuring that the global sulphur cap fulfils the health and environmental benefits it promises, in verifying the compliance of carriers.

One of the biggest challenges leading up to 2020 is the uncertainty: we simply don’t know what kind of fuel or other compliance options will be available or what the cost will be.

To handle this uncertainty, we have chosen to spread the risk and increase flexibility. The WWL ‘four-stream’ approach accepts that there will not be a one-size fits all solution – there are certainly no magic bullets – but by pursuing a multi-stranded strategy we have the best chance of managing risks and costs for ourselves and our customers.

From a shipper perspective, the worst situation would be working with a carrier who doesn’t see what the fuss is about and has done nothing to engage with the issue. Vessel owners that simply ‘wait and see’ not only put shippers at a disadvantage but also increase the risk of supply chain disruption for their customers. Starting the conversation early means having the best possible chance of mitigating the regulatory impact.