© Lars-Erik Håkansson

EU ship sulphur directive scrutinized

Sulphur emissions from ships in northern Europe have come down significantly, resulting in health and environmental improvements in coastal regions and port cities.

The maximum permitted sulphur content of maritime fuels is regulated in the EU’s 2012 sulphur directive, which is largely harmonized with global standards set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). By January 2020 the overall global limit is strengthened from 3.50 per cent to 0.50 per cent, but a limit of 0.10 per cent has been in force since 2015 in specially designated sulphur emissions control areas (SECAs). For comparison, the sulphur content of fuels used by road vehicles (trucks or cars) and by ships on inland waterways in the EU must not exceed 0.001 per cent.

So far, only two European sea areas – the Baltic Sea and the North Sea (including the English Channel) – have been designated as SECAs, and new research has shown that since 2015 the atmospheric concentration of sulphur dioxide (SO2) has more than halved along the North Sea and Baltic coasts of Denmark, Germany and Sweden.

The first report by the European Commission on compliance with the EU’s sulphur directive has just been published. It reports that during the three years from January 2015 to December 2017, over 28,000 inspections were carried out by member states. This resulted in the identification of around 1,350 cases of fuel sulphur limits being breached, i.e. a non-compliance rate of around 5 per cent.

Looking specifically at the SECAs, where the stricter 0.10-per-cent sulphur limit applies, the non-compliance rate was somewhat higher, at 7 per cent.

According to the Commission, the directive has led to a significant increase in the number of fuel sulphur inspections, from previously checking 1 in every 1,000 ships calling on EU ports to the current inspection frequency of 1 in 10 ships. This increase in inspections follows the adoption in February 2015 of an Implementing Decision that lays down rules and procedures that member states must follow to check compliance with the sulphur directive (see AN 1/2015).

The Commission notes that this increase in monitoring and enforcement by member states has a significant deterrent effect. It also notes, however, that some member states do not yet comply with the mandatory number of inspections and fuel sampling. In its conclusions, the Commission says that it will also look into the penalties member states have imposed on non-compliant operators and assess whether they have a truly dissuasive effect.

While member states are obliged by the directive to submit a report to the Commission on compliance by 30 June each year, the Commission must also report annually on the implementation of the directive. Moreover, the Commission “shall evaluate the need for further strengthening the relevant provisions” of the directive and “make any appropriate legislative proposals to that effect”.

In its report, the Commission notes that additional reductions in ship air pollution are expected more widely across Europe from 2020 as a result of the blanket 0.50 per cent sulphur limit. But it also notes that exceedances of the air quality standards for NO2 occur frequently and that there are no immediate reductions in ship emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) envisaged.

Last year the Commission launched a study to identify the health benefits and associated costs of designating additional Emission Control Areas (both for SOx and NOx emissions) in European sea areas other than the Baltic and North Seas, and it also tasked the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) to develop inventories of total ship emissions (SO2, NOx, PM) in all European waters based on ship activity data. Both tasks are to be finalized in 2018.

This new data on ship emissions will inform the Commission and member states on policies and measures that could further reduce the contribution from shipping to air pollution, including the feasibility of designating the Mediterranean Sea, or parts thereof, as an Emission Control Area.

Christer Ågren

European Commission press release and report, 16 April 2018. “Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on implementation and compliance with the sulphur standards for marine fuels set out in Directive (EU) 2016/802 relating to a reduction in the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels” Link: https://ec.europa.eu/info/news/concerted-eu-action-reduces-air-pollution...



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