Nautilus: Mariners Risk Criminal Charges for IMO2020 Noncompliance


Published Dec 2, 2019 1:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

Mariners' union Nautilus International is concerned that the new IMO 2020 sulfur regulations could lead to criminal penalties for officers in the event of non-compliance, and it has called on vessel operators to ensure high levels of training and preparation in advance of the impending switchover. 

”Whilst we firmly support the moves to improve the shipping industry's environmental performance, it's clear that IMO 2020 is imposing a massive new burden on seafarers, both in terms of workload and in their exposure to potentially huge fines and criminal convictions," said Nautilus technical officer David Appleton. "It's essential that shipping companies do all they can to provide their masters, officers and crews with the training and resources required to ensure compliance with the new rules."

The union pointed to the case of the P&O cruise ship Azura: French authorities fined the vessel's American master more than $110,000 for an alleged excess fuel sulfur content in the vessel's bunker tanks of 0.18 percentage points (1.68 percent in 1.5 percent sulfur zone). About $90,000 of the penalty was assigned to the vessel's operator, but the balance was levied against the master personally. 

Nautilus is concerned that with the advent of the 0.5 percent global sulfur cap on January 1, crewmembers will be exposed to additional liability if the operator chooses to evade regulations or if they are provided with inadequate training. 

"These are complex requirements, with complex and varied enforcement mechanisms, and our members need to be protected against the threat of legal proceedings arising from inadvertent infringement of the rules," Nautilus said. "As ever, Nautilus will support members who are exposed to unwarranted criminalisation, and it is also important that they contact the Union should they be forced to cheat the system in any way by management.”

The union is also concerned about the safety implications of switching over to comply with the new rule. Fuel switching is commonly practiced today for vessels entering and exiting ECA zones, like those off Northern Europe and California, and it is associated with risks related to loss of fuel oil pressure and even loss of power - a hazardous problem in coastal waters. Other operational problems of potential concern for engineering crewmembers include incompatibility between batches and sources of low-sulfur fuels, potentially leading to precipitation of asphaltenes and excessive sludge formation.