Ignoring Sulfur Regulations Not an Option


By MarEx 2015-10-01 09:03:16

The new sulfur directive requires significant international control and enforcement. 

Denmark is among those taking the lead, but the rest of the world must follow to ensure that ignoring the directive does not become an attractive option, says the Danish Shipowners’ Association. Not respecting the low-sulfur limits will be detrimental to both the climate and to the competitiveness of Danish ships.

Since January 1, ships sailing in areas such as the North and Baltic Seas and the English Channel have been required to reduce their sulfur emissions by 90 percent, but the new requirements call for international enforcement to avoid the creation of economic incentives to cheat.

“Danish shipping companies all agree on the need to protect health and the environment, and therefore support the imposition of new sulfur requirements,” says Senior Adviser Jesper Stubkjaer, Danish Shipowners’ Association. “However, as recently highlighted by the media, a key issue regarding the new requirements is enforcement. 

“There is a lot of money to be made in circumventing the requirements of the directive, and that makes effective international enforcement crucial. Without enforcement, we risk losing the environmental and health related improvements. Similarly, law-abiding shipping companies will suffer from unfair competitive disadvantages and will lose out to those who cheat.”

Since 2007, the Danish Shipowners’ Association has been working with the Danish Environmental Protection Agency in a Partnership for Green Shipping with, among other things, a focus on enforcement. Pilot projects on measurements of ships’ sulfur emissions from aircraft and bridges have been conducted as part of the partnership. Consequently, all vessels in all waters should be ready for unannounced sulfur control at any time.

“Ships can be subject to sulfur testing when calling a port in Europe (Port State Control), but when ships leave a port in the North or Baltic Sea bound for a port outside Europe, there is no risk of sulfur inspection. It is these vessels in particular that the Danish Shipowners’ Association fears will deliberately bypass the rules,” says Stubkjaer.


In 2008, the IMO adopted the new sulfur requirements. In 2012, these requirements were included in the EU’s Sulphur directive.

Since January 1, 2015, ships sailing in the North and Baltic Sea (Emission Control Area, ECA) must use fuel with a sulfur content of maximum 0.1 percent. As an alternative to using the expensive fuel, ships can make use of exhaust gas cleaning, thereby achieving an equivalent reduction of sulfur and particulate matter air pollution.

In April 2015, the E.U. adopted requirements for control measures in relation to sulfur in marine fuel through a delegated act. As a consequence, as of 2016, one in ten ships that call European ports will be subject to a sulfur inspection.

The price difference between conventional bunker fuel (heavy fuel oil, HFO, with up to 3.5 percent sulfur) and low sulfur fuel with 0.1 percent sulfur amounts to approximately $200/ton. The low sulfur fuel is expected to be the solution chosen by most ships sailing in and out of the North and Baltic Sea. Installing scrubbers or operating on LNG (which is sulfur free) is only likely to be cost effective for ships operating in the ECA for the majority of the time.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.