The International Bunker Industry Association (IBIA) says the campaign by Intertanko for all shipping to switch to burning MDO flies in the face of common sense. "We all want to improve air quality and reduce emissions from shipping," says Fritz Fredriksen, chairman of IBIA and a major buyer of fuel on behalf of a Norway-based shipowner. "But there is more than one way to tackle the issue, and it does not make sense to stifle innovation and shut the door on different approaches by preaching that everyone should be forced into a strait jacket and use one type of fuel."

IMO is currently considering a series of options aimed at reducing air emissions from shipping. They focus on reducing sulphur, nitrous oxide, particulate matter and carbon emission from ships' engines. Intertanko, which represents a sector of the tanker industry, has been running a vocal campaign to support the idea that if all shipping switches to burning distillate fuel only, that will achieve the desired emission reduction. "IBIA believes this is a simplistic and narrow viewpoint, which might suit some of the small group of shipowners represented by Intertanko, but which would be unworkable in practice and which would damage the efficient shipping industry on which global trade depends," says Fredriksen.

IBIA is working at IMO, with other organisations, to promote a holistic approach to air emission reduction. "We believe the rules should focus on outputs, not inputs," explains Fredriksen. "If we say that ships can only emit this or that, then it is up to shipping to devise the most efficient way to achieve that. One way is to burn distillates, but that is not the only way. Owners can install scrubbers, or can burn low sulphur heavy fuel and achieve the same outcome. So why create a regulatory strait jacket which will harm the industry?"

IBIA says distillate supply could not keep up with demand if Intertanko's proposal was adopted. "Europe alone already imports 33m tonnes of distillates," says Fredriksen. "We would need another massive product tanker fleet to supply the MDO for ships if we took the Intertanko route, which is perhaps why some tanker owners support the idea. Or we would need to invest $38bn in converting 50 oil refineries to produce more distillates; will the oil industry seriously do that?

What about the extra 600 million tonnes of crude oil we would need to produce all this distillate fuel, imagine what that would do to world oil prices, especially as prices are so high already. And while many tanker owners don't buy their own fuel, it comes with the charter, the same cannot be said for the containership fleets on which the world depends. An enforced switch to distillate fuel would seriously disrupt trade and massively push up costs, quite unnecessarily. By all means let us work together at IMO to reduce output emission from ships, but let's keep the door open for more than one way to do this."