North American ECA met by approval

The process of establishing an emission control area (ECA) off the North American shores has taken a step further.

The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in July approved in principle a joint US/Canadian proposal to establish an emission control area (ECA) reaching 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) off the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean shores of the two countries (see AN 2/09, pp. 1, 4–5). The proposal is now set for formal adoption at the next MEPC meeting in March 2010.

In the debate, China criticised the proposed ECA for being too large in size, citing fears that it could set a precedent for forthcoming ECA applications, which could eventually lead to “most shipping areas becoming ECAs”, while Japan expressed concerns about availability of low-sulphur fuel to meet demand.

According to the revised MARPOL Annex VI, exhaust gas cleaning systems or other technical measures can be used as an alternative to low-sulphur fuels to achieve the emission sulphur reductions set out in the Annex.

Based on input from an expert group, the MEPC approved guidelines for discharge of washwater from exhaust gas cleaning systems (scrubbers), but with the provision that there will be a review sometime after 2010, as more data becomes available on the contents of the discharge and its effects.

The need for more detailed and possibly also legally binding fuel quality standards has been under debate for some time. As a result, last year the IMO invited the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to revise their current fuel standards, aligning them with the needs of the revised Annex VI.

ISO reported back to the MEPC meeting in July, but the recommended quality parameters and limit values suggested by the ISO failed to satisfy the MEPC, with several points of concern raised by member states. Consequently, the ISO was asked to come back next year with a revised proposal.

The new North American emission control area (ECA) (green lines).

Note: Annex VI “Regulations for the prevention of air pollution from ships” of the IMO’s MARPOL Convention was adopted in 1997 and entered into force in 2005. The revised Annex VI, as adopted in October 2008 will enter into force on 1 July 2010.

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