American Cruise Ship Captain Fined Over Fuel Sulfur Content

The Azura (file image)

Published Nov 26, 2018 5:20 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Monday, a court in Marseille fined an American master mariner $110,000 for using fuel with a sulfur content measuring 0.18 percentage points above a disputed limit. It is the first ruling of its kind in France, and it is contrary to the French government's previous stance on sulfur content rules for cruise ships.  

On the morning of March 28, 2018, while under the command of Capt. Evans Hoyt, the P&O cruise ship Azura called at Marseille. Inspectors boarded, sampled her tanks and determined that she was using fuel with a sulfur content of 1.68 percent. This amount is slightly higher than the EU's 1.5 percent limit for "passenger ships providing regular services to destinations or from ports of the European Union." The rule does not cover all passenger vessels, and it is interpreted differently in different EU nations. The governments of France and Spain have previously determined that it does not apply to cruise ships.

In the case of the Azura, however, French prosecutors contended that the EU's passenger ship sulfur cap applies to vessels fitting her description. They further alleged that operator P&O had used slightly higher-sulfur fuel illegally in order to save money. The judge ruled that P&O parent company Carnival Corporation should pay $90,000 of Capt. Hoyt's $110,000 fine. 

Carnival has appealed the decision, and in a statement it noted that France's government has given clear indication that it will not apply the EU's passenger ship sulfur cap to cruise ships.

“We were . . . very disappointed to be prosecuted for this offense, which was based on a European law the French environment ministry had explicitly informed the cruise industry would not be applied to cruise ships and which, in any event, has still not been properly implemented," Carnival wrote in a statement. "The captain was using the fuel in good faith, as directed by us, based on our understanding of the law. We have lodged an appeal and will consider the full decision of the court once it is available.”

The EU's 1.5 percent sulfur content limit for passenger vessels will be superseded on January 1, 2020, when the new IMO limit of 0.5 percent enters into effect for all internationally-trading merchant vessels.

Capt. Evans Hoyt, an American citizen and a graduate of USMMA (class of '82), joined the P&O Cruises vessel Azura as master in 2016. According to his online resume, he previously sailed for ten years with Norwegian Cruise Lines, where he served as the captain of the Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Spirit, Norwegian Sky, the Pride of America and the Pride of Hawaii.