Better enforcement and stiffer fines wanted

Limits for ship fuel sulphur content are set in EU legislation (directive 2012/33) as well as in the global MARPOL Convention’s Annex VI under the International Maritime Organization. From 1 January 2015, ships that operate in designated Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECA) – which in Europe cover the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the English Channel – are obliged either to switch to fuels with a maximum sulphur content of 0.10 per cent or to install exhaust gas cleaning technology (scrubbers) that achieve equivalent emission reductions.

The EU directive requires member states to “determine the penalties applicable” and that these penalties “must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive”.

At a workshop in the European Parliament on 21 October, environmental groups and shipping industry representatives jointly criticised the fact that the existing surveillance schemes in place to check whether ships meet the required sulphur standards are much too weak and that the level of fines is often set much too low, or in some member states has not yet even been determined.

Dea Forchhammer, from the Danish shipping company Maersk, noted that compliance inspections were largely limited to ports and that there is also a need to check compliance at sea. She also questioned the level of the fines for non-compliance, saying that while a ship operator that ignores the sulphur limit could save as much as US$100,000 in a single voyage inside the European SECA, the fines in some member states could be as low as €1500.

For the period January to July 2015 the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has reported that 3,821ships had been inspected and that 622 fuel samples had been analysed. The proportion of fuel samples that were non-compliant was reportedly six per cent.

Based on this data, Kåre Press-Kristensen from the Danish Ecological Council concluded that out of a total of around 400,000 port calls in the EU, less than one per cent of the ships are currently inspected and only 0.15 per cent of the ships undergo bunker fuel analysis. Even though these figure are set to increase somewhat as from 2016, they are still clearly inadequate to ensure compliance.

Installation of continuous emissions monitoring systems (CEMS) on ships is a promising option to ensure compliance throughout the ship voyage, according to Press-Kristensen. Application of this type monitoring, which can also be checked by satellite, will be even more important from 2020, when the global sulphur limit will come down to 0.50 per cent.

Currently there is a lack of surveillance and a lack of international cooperation and cohesion regarding potential fines, and thus a significant economic advantage for those who use the dirtier but cheaper fuel, stated German environmental group Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), one of the organisers of the workshop.

According to NABU, the number of controls – not only in ports, but in particular on the open sea – must be significantly increased. To do this, the national authorities have to be equipped with an adequate number of staff as well as modern hardware and software. Moreover, the responsible authorities of different member states and the European Commission must co-operate regarding information exchange and surveillance operations.
On top of an increasing number of high-sea patrols, NABU wants mobile and stationary remote sensors (sniffers) to guarantee better enforcement of the sulphur legislation. Finally, it is essential that member states impose stiff penalties for those who do not comply.

Christer Ågren
Link to NABU’s statement:

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