When we last looked at the IMO 2020 MARPOL Annex VI policy back in 2018 Q4, there were many sources of ambiguity in terms of the outlook. These included scrubber uptake, fuel options and availability, freight rates and the expectations on policy enforcement. As we approach the 1 January 2020 deadline for the policy, we have greater clarity on the likely impact of the policy on fuel prices. CRU's view is that the IMO 2020 regulation is likely to raise freight rates by around 10-20%.
Scrubber uptake has been more prevalent than anticipated
From our discussions with Maritime Strategies International (MSI) and other active participants in the freight market, we now expect a higher uptake of scrubbers. We estimate that 20-25% of the larger Capesize vessels will have scrubbers fitted by end 2020. For the mid-size Panamax vessels, the uptake is lower at 5%. The smaller Handymax vessels are unlikely to install scrubbers at all. Considering the share of each type of vessel we calculate that in 2020, 10%-15% of total ocean-going freight capacity will employ scrubbers, rising to ~20% by 2025. More Capesize capacity will be fitted with scrubbers because the vessel size and the typical length of voyage mean a larger volume of fuel is burned making the capital investment and the pay-off period much more attractive. In addition, Capesize vessels generally travel on fixed routes between very large ports (e.g. Brazil or Australia to China), where the likelihood of the high sulphur fuel oil (IFO180) being available is greater than that of a small port.
We have revised our process for calculating the optimal time period over which the investment in a scrubber is expected to be paid off. We now consider only the difference in freight rates as the variable that will determine the optimal pay-off period. As a result, the pay-off period is now expected to be 12-18 months, on average. Of course, we expect this to vary between different shipowners for a variety of reasons.
Of the vessels fitted and due to be fitted with scrubbers, most have opted for the open loop option (where the exhaust gases are washed with sea water and discharged into the sea). This comes as a surprise as closed-loop scrubbers initially were considered to be more environmentally friendly as the 'waste' was instead disposed of after treatment at ports. However, since some studies have concluded that there is no notable negative environmental impact to using open loop vessels, many companies fitting scrubbers are willing to take the risk; they are assuming that there will not be a subsequent policy to remove open-loop scrubbers from operations any time soon. Open loop scrubbers cut down on installation and running costs, along with the logistics of carrying and disposing of the waste. There are some regions (Singapore and Fujairah) where an open loop scrubber is not allowed to operate, but until we see such controls at major ports such as Rotterdam, Qingdao and Newcastle the movement of bulk vessels will be largely unaffected.
Fuel blending will achieve compliance
Bunker fuel is a residual fuel of the oil refining process, it is cheap, has high sulphur content and has been the standard fuel used by the shipping industry. The most common types of bunker fuels are IFO 380 and IFO 180, in our work we have focussed on IFO 180. The IMO regulation will limit sulphur emissions and therefore requires shipowners to consider the options available to comply. Fuel blending will be key to achieving compliance. The extent to which fuel type needs to be changed depends on the extent to which emissions need to be cut. Prior to the implementation of IMO 2020, the sulphur emission limit outside the emission control areas (ECAs) was 3.5% m/m. However, after talking with the IMO, we feel that 2.5% m/m is a more accurate figure for actual emissions.
Date: Jan 28, 2020