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EU Approves Ship-Fuel Sulfur Limits

The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France agreed to set a 1.5 percent sulfur limit on fuel that is used by passenger ships operating between EU ports beginning in May, 2006 and a 0.1 percent limit for fuel used by all other commercial ships beginning in 2010.

The law, which incorporates the International Maritime Organization (IMO) sulfur limit of 1.5 percent for all ships in the Baltic Sea, North Sea, and English Channel, aims to curb sulfur-dioxide emissions, which have been blamed for illnesses, such as asthma, bronchitis, and heart disease, and environmental damage, such as the disintegration of buildings. The IMO regulations have already been backed by 25 EU countries.

A spokesperson for the EU said that the new law is an important breakthrough as a first step to limiting emissions from ships. The EU has previously said that ships are basically waste incinerators because the bunker fuel they use is waste from the oil refining process.

Ship fuel sulfur levels worldwide average 2.7 percent and can often be as high as 4.5 percent, according to the EU Commission, which predicted the $1.5 billion in extra fuel costs. However, the EU's Executive Committee in Brussels has forecasted health and materials savings of $3.5 billion as a result of the reduced emissions. This reflects heightened concerns about EU maritime emissions, which is expected to exceed land-based emissions within 12 years.