Council and the European Parliament reach a provisional agreement on the sulphur content of marine fuels

The deal requires ships to reduce the sulphur content of their fuels by close to 90%. Photo: Danish EPA

The EU Wednesday announced an informal agreement requiring, by law, that all ships operating in EU waters meet mandatory sulphur content limits of marine fuels in an effort to reduce harmful emissions from ships.

Under the provisional agreement and in line with Annex VI of the MARPOL Convention, ships operating in the EU’s “sulphur emission control areas”, including Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the English Channel, will have to lower the amount of sulfur used in marine fuel from 1% to 0.1% by 2015.  Meanwhile, ships operating in other EU waters will have to lower the amount of sulfur used to a less onerous 0.5% by 2020.

The agreement is based on international regulations adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2008. However, a key result of the new agreement is that the limits will now become mandatory under EU law, and ships failing to meet the new limits will face fines high enough to cancel out any savings of not complying with the rules.  A formal EU decision on the agreement is expected this summer.

While environmentalists and health advocates are applauding the drastic actions, critics, including some of the Nordic region’s biggest companies, are saying that the new rule will largely have a negative effect on shipping costs and distort competitiveness in the region.

The European Commission estimated that meeting the new limits will cost the shipping industry between 2.6 billion and 11 billion euros ($3.3 billion-$14 billion), reports Reuters, however that number is far outweighed by the estimated public health savings of up to about 30 billion euros.

Air pollution produced by ships in Europe leads to an estimated 50,000 premature deaths each year says the European Council.

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