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Shipping Sheds Its Dirty Problem With a Little Help From Covid

  • Ships had to burn lower-sulfur fuel from start of January
  • Expected turmoil for shipping and refining never materialized
Operations at Busan Port Terminal As Virus Grip on Economy Eases
Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg
Updated on

It was meant to be one of the greatest transformations in the history of oil and shipping. Instead, a sweeping regulatory change this year to clean up the maritime industry’s fuel passed successfully and with little fanfare, rendered a historical footnote by Covid-19.

Vessel owners and oil refiners were expected to face major upheaval because of rules that took effect on Jan. 1 to help improve human health and combat environmental concerns by slashing the amount of sulfur in ship fuel. The two industries did, indeed, undergo unprecedented turmoil -- but the cause was a pandemic that upended economies and trashed oil demand.