The United Nations has established global regulations to limit the amount of sulphur emissions from vessels and said they would come into force from January 1, 2020.

A session of the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) in London set the new requirements, which will see sulphur emissions reduce from the current maximum of 3.5 percent of fuel content to 0.5 percent.

Analysts have said that the move will add extra costs to the shipping industry at a time when parts of it are going through their worst ever downturn, and also questioned whether refiners would undertake lengthy and costly investments to produce lower sulphur fuel.

BIMCO's deputy secretary general, Lars Robert Pedersen, said: "BIMCO respects the decision of the MEPC to move ahead and implement the global sulphur cap by January 1, 2020. We also noted the concerns raised by a number of IMO member states about availability of fuel oil in some regions of the world and the ability of their refineries to respond adequately." 

He added that BIMCO "recognises that the global sulphur cap implementation is about transition and would have been equally challenging either in 2020 or 2025. The transitional issues have been highlighted and we continue to hold the view that this will not be a 'walk in the park'. The decision by the MEPC does not change this view."

Pedersen continued: "BIMCO is appreciative of the further decision by the MEPC to recognise the need for effective implementation as suggested by a number of IMO member states and industry organisations including BIMCO. The years leading up to 2020 must now be used effectively to alleviate the consequences of the unprecedented disruptive change in supply of marine fuels by January 1, 2020 and ensure a continued level playing field in the industry."