Sanctions missing for ship sulphur sinners

Efficient control and enforcement needed to ensure compliance.

In the first year of stricter standards in the Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECA) of the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the English Channel, Swedish authorities took 441 ship fuel oil samples. They discovered 15 violations of the sulphur limit, but none of these resulted in fines or other types of sanctions.

According to Caroline Petrini, an environmental expert and legal assistant at the Swedish Transport Agency, the problem lies with the Swedish criminal law that requires solid evidence that the non-compliance was intentional. As it is not possible to investigate any infringement after the ship has left the port, which is usually the case, since analysis of the fuel sample takes two to three days, it was decided by the prosecutor not to initiate further investigations of the reported instances.

By using environmental legislation instead, the authority could issue a fine on the spot, which has led the Swedish Transport Agency to propose changing the jurisdiction from criminal law to an administrative fine.

The idea is that inspectors can use hand-held fuel sampling equipment to get an indication of whether the sulphur level is exceeded. If non-compliance is suspected, an administrative fine can be issued. Then the ships must put up collateral in the form of a deposit until a detailed fuel analysis has been done in a laboratory, and if the analysis results show that the sample exceeds the permitted levels, the deposit will be used for payment of the fine. If the sample shows that everything is in order, the deposit will be paid back.

However, until the new system is agreed and put into practice, there is very little risk for ships using non-compliant fuel to be fined in Sweden.

In comparison, the Norwegian authorities in 2015 issued three fines out of eleven measurements that showed too high a sulphur content, while Denmark is still working on convicting its first sulphur sinner.

On 5 January, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency and the Danish Maritime Authority published an action plan for 2016 on efficient enforcement of regulations on ships’ sulphur emissions.

The stated goal of the new Danish action plan is to further pursue the experiences gained in 2015 through surveillance from the air and control in ports. It is noted that collection of data from various sources will be needed to enable all SECA countries to improve their enforcement, and that international cooperation in the EU and the IMO as well as in the networks established between the SECA countries must be extended.

“Until now, surveillance has shown that only very few ships violate the regulations. This is positive. But, there is still a need for efficient control and enforcement in both Denmark and the other SECA countries,” said Michel Schilling, vice director of the Danish EPA.

Christer Ågren

Sources: ShippingWatch 9 February 2016 and press release from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency 5 January 2016 (

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