As a response to these issues, environmental regulations in the shipping sector are becoming increasingly stringent. In September 2017, the Ballast Water Management Convention came into force. More recently, the IMO 2020 regulation put a cap on the maximum sulfur content allowed in maritime fuels. The shipping industry has been one of the greatest emitters of sulfur dioxide, which can cause respiratory issues in humans, as well as the formation of acid rain and particulate matter. In an effort to curb SOx emissions, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) established a cap of 0.5 percent m/m (mass by mass) on marine fuels. Alternatively, ships that still use heavy fuel oil (HFO) must install exhaust gas cleaning systems to comply with the emissions reduction standards.
Overall, the IMO 2020 sulfur cap is expected to have far-reaching consequences on the marine bunker industry, raising questions about the potential market leaders in the production of Low Sulfur Fuel Oil (LSFO). China, which has the second-largest oil refining capacity in the world, has been intensively preparing for the production of LSFO. Despite these efforts, in February 2020 Chinese ship owners requested a suspension of the IMO regulation, mainly to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Aside from conventional fuels, alternatives such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), which has a negligible sulfur content, are also becoming increasingly appealing. Pioneering concepts such as ammonia-fueled ships and electric propulsion are also part of the effort to decarbonize the shipping industry. Shipping companies are increasingly starting to move along a more sustainable direction: in 2018, the largest container shipper in the world, A.P. Møller – Mærsk, committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.