EU consults on marine fuels

The European Commission is seeking stakeholder input via an internet consultation on a forthcoming proposal to update the EU directive on the sulphur content of marine fuels.1 This would align the sulphur standards in the directive with the stricter international standards agreed to by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in 2008,2 which came into force on 1 July 2010.

In line with the IMO requirements, the general global maximum sulphur content of marine fuels will drop from 4.5 to 3.50 per cent in 2012, and further to 0.50 per cent in 2020 (subject to a review in 2018, which may postpone the 0.50 per cent limit to 2025).

Stricter requirements apply for fuels used in designated sulphur emission control areas (SECAs). In Europe, there are currently two such SECAs: the North Sea (including the English Channel) and the Baltic Sea. Here the sulphur limit from July 2010 is set at 1.00 per cent, falling to 0.10 per cent as from 2015.

It should be noted that IMO's international rules allow ships to use alternative methods to achieve equivalent reductions in sulphur emissions, such as exhaust gas gleaning (scrubbers) or alternative fuels like liquefied natural gas (LNG), as long as certain safety and environmental requirements are met.

In its background document, the Commission concludes that ship emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and fine particles (PM) significantly contribute to air pollution problems in the EU, including damage to health (premature deaths and illnesses) and the environment (acidification, eutrophication and associated losses in biodiversity).

In order to reduce air pollution damage and to achieve air quality objectives, additional measures to reduce the emissions of air pollutants are required, including from international shipping. Such emission reductions will also help member states to attain binding air quality standards.

The Commission also notes that "projections of the business as usual scenarios for ship emissions show that these emissions in EU sea areas could be as important as emissions of SO2 and NOx from all land-based sources combined in the EU by 2020."

Under existing EU law, ships may use 1.5 per cent sulphur fuel in SECAs – a discrepancy which needs to be corrected. Consequently, the Commission proposes that the current EU requirement on sulphur limits in SECAs should be aligned with the new IMO standards, and that "the transposition of the global standard for the sulphur content of fuels outside of SECAs should also be considered to achieve."

Figure One: emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) in the EU27 and from international shipping in European sea areas (Baltic Sea, North Sea, North-East Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Sea) between 2000 and 2030.

Projections of emissions from land-based sources in the EU27 are based on a "current legislation scenario" which assumes full implementation of
existing legislation to control air pollutant emissions.

Projections of emissions from international shipping are shown in three scenarios:

  • Sea-baseline: current legislation prior to the adoption by the IMO of the revised MARPOL Annex VI from October 2008
  • Sea-MEPC: assuming full implementation of the revised MARPOL Annex VI. Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs) are limited to the current ones, i.e. the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. It is assumed that the IMO's global limit of 0.5 per cent sulphur takes effect from 2020.
  • Sea-MTFR: assuming full implementation of all technically feasible emission abatement options in the GAINS-model, i.e. limiting fuel sulphur content to 0.1 per cent in all EU sea areas.

Figure Two: emissions of fine particles (PM2.5) in the EU27 and from international shipping in European sea areas (Baltic Sea, North Sea, North-East Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Sea) between 2000 and 2030. For scenarios, see Figure One.

To assess the impacts of introducing the new sulphur standards, a series of studies has been produced for the Commission and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), as well as by IMO and the member states. The Commission concludes the studies confirm that the benefits will largely outweigh the costs, but that they also suggest that stricter sulphur requirements will "at least in some cases lead to important increases of maritime transport costs." In turn, this may in some cases lead to a "reduced attractiveness of short sea shipping", which may trigger a modal shift to rail or road transport solutions (in the absence of further measures affecting the cost of the latter modes).

The current directive requests the Commission to particularly consider the designation of additional SECAs, as well as alternative or complementary measures, such as the use of economic instruments, to reduce air pollution from ships. It does not, however, contain provisions to regulate ship emissions of NOx or PM.

The Commission notes "that certain subject matters cannot be subject to amendments" at present, but it fails to provide any substantive reason for this claim. Instead, it says that its forthcoming Communication accompanying the possible proposal may indicate which options could be pursued at a later stage. According to the Commission, a key example of this is the designation of Emission Control Areas, which require a proposal from parties3 and a subsequent verification by the IMO against set criteria.

Clearly, the Commission does not currently intend to address the issue of additional ECAs or the question of regulating air pollutants from shipping other than SO2. Instead, it says, these issues will be brought up when a more general review of the EU's air quality policies is conducted in 2013. The Commission intends to have additional public consultations on these important matters from spring 2011 onwards.

Interested parties are invited to send their comments, suggestions and replies to the questionnaire to the Commission by 5 January 2011 at the latest. The questionnaire and the Commission's background document can be found here.

Christer Ågren

1 Directive 2005/33/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 2005 amending Directive 1999/32/EC as regards the sulphur content of marine fuels, and Council Directive 1999/32/EC of 26 April 1999 relating to a reduction in the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels and amending Directive 93/12/EEC.

2 Revised Annex VI of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from ships (MARPOL), adopted on 10 October 2008.

3 Five of the EU's 27 member states are not parties to MARPOL Annex VI, namely Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta and Slovakia.

Non-compliant shipping fuelThe degree of compliance with marine fuel sulphur limits within the EU is "insufficient", according to the European Commission.

Analyses of fuel samples undertaken by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) in 2008 found that the monthly degree of non-compliance of SECA fuels ranged from 4.1 to 9.2 per cent of samples tested. Non-compliance with the sulphur limit of 0.1 per cent for marine gas oils (MGO) was even higher – between 19.5 and 25.5 per cent of monthly samples.

The worst compliance record of all was for passenger vessels, where a majority of fuel samples for passenger ships calling at EU ports (except for France and parts of Spain) contained sulphur in excess of the 1.5 per cent limit.

This new data was presented in the background document to the Commission's internet consultation (see main article). Moreover, the Commission noted that the sampling frequency and the number of samples taken to check for compliance with the directive are very low, and vary significantly between member states.


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