The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released interim guidance for ship owners and operators clarifying how the U.S. government will implement fuel availability provisions when ships are unable to obtain fuel that meets standards protecting against sulfur pollution along the coast. Sulfur pollution has been linked to respiratory illnesses, particularly in at-risk populations including children, the elderly, and asthmatics. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has officially designated waters off of the coast of North America, known as the North American Emission Control Area (North American ECA), as areas where stringent international pollution standards apply for ships, including fuel sulfur limits. The guidance provides background information on the North American ECA fuel sulfur standards, explains how owners and operators of vessels can establish compliance with these requirements, and describes how an owner or operator of a vessel who cannot obtain compliant fuel oil can make a fuel oil non-availability claim.
The IMO is a United Nations agency that deals with marine safety, security, and the prevention of marine pollution from ships. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) is a treaty designed to minimize pollution on the seas including dumping waste, oil, and exhaust pollution. MARPOL Annex VI sets out air emissions standards, including fuel sulfur limits, for ships. The United States implemented Annex VI in 2008 when Congress amended the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS).
Annex VI requires ships operating in designated geographical areas, the ECAs, to meet the most advanced standards for fuel sulfur and other pollutants. The North American ECA will come into force on August 1, 2012. At that time, the maximum sulfur content of fuel oil used by ships in the ECA will be limited to 1.00 percent m/m (10,000 ppm). This standard will change on January 1, 2015, to 0.10 percent m/m (1,000 ppm).
Compliance with both the Annex VI air emissions standards for ships and the Clean Air Act standards applicable to U.S. ships are expected to reduce the annual emissions of sulfur oxides by 1.3 million tons by 2030.