Ships which do not meet cuts to the amount of sulphur they can burn in their engines risk being declared "unseaworthy", the International Maritime Organization (IMO) said on Thursday.
Shippers and refiner are not sure how they will comply with rules finalized last year which require ships worldwide to cut sulphur emissions from 3.5 to 0.5 percent by 2020.
The IMO said there would be no delays or exceptions to the coming rules, whether or not the industry takes the steps it needs to comply, and warned that all parties face consequences if they do not play their part.
Edmund Hughes, head of air pollution and energy efficiency with the IMO, said that vessels owners are taking a huge risk if they choose not to comply with the rules.
He warned that a non-compliant ship could be considered as "unseaworthy", thus "affecting their charter party and also indemnity in the event of an insurance claim."
The IMO is holding sessions in February and later in 2018 on "how to ensure consistent implementation."
Already, an IMO panel approved an amendment to rules that will require suppliers to certify that the bunker fuel they are selling is under the sulphur limits, or that the ships have scrubbers installed, another method of compliance or have an official exemption from Jan. 1, 2019.
Few ships have so far opted to install the costly "scrubbers," which would allow them to keep burning high-sulphur fuel oil, meaning sellers will be under pressure to cut the availability of higher sulphur fuel.
(Reporting by Libby George; Editing by Mark Potter and Alexander Smith)