SO2 from Ships - New Proposal

The Commission has proposed a new law aimed at significantly cutting Sulphur Dioxide emissions from ships, largely by further reducing the allowable sulphur content of shipping fuels.

The new Directive would revise a law that is currently in force, namely Directive 1999/32/EC, which regulates the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels used in maritime transport.

The initiative comes as a response to the European Parliament, which argued that shipping emissions should be further reduced, and called for the Commission to review the 1999 Directive’s provisions. The Commission did so and found that existing rules could indeed be tightened up. It followed with this proposal.

Key Amendments

The proposed Directive introduces a number of amendments to the current Directive with regard to the following provisions:

Definition of maritime diesel oil , marine gas oil and emission abatement method

The new Directive would adapt the definitions of the terms maritime diesel oil and marine gas oil to the latest international standards. It would also extend the definition of the emission abatement method to any material, appliance or apparatus to be fitted in a ship or procedure, alternative fuel or compliance method that could be used as an alternative to low sulphur marine fuel.

Maximum sulphur content of heavy fuel oil

The revised rules would introduce a stricter legal regime governing the permitted maximum sulphur content of heavy fuel oil. In particular, the maximum sulphur content authorised in heavy fuel oils would never exceed a percentage of 1.0 % by mass.

The Directive would permit exceptions to this general rule in 2 cases.

Firstly, for a limited period until 31 December 2015, exceptions would apply to (i) combustion plants that are regulated by Directive 2001/80/EC concerning the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from large combustion plants and (ii) to combustion plants as well as to combustion in refineries where the monthly average of emissions of sulphur dioxide does not exceed 1700 mg/Nm3 at an oxygen content in the flue gas of 3% by volume on a dry basis.

Secondly, from 1 January 2016 onwards, the general rule would not apply to: (i) combustion plants which are regulated by the Directive 2010/75/EC on industrial emissions and (ii) to combustion plants where the monthly average sulphur dioxide emissions do not exceed 1700 mg/Nm3 at an oxygen content in the flue gas of 3% by volume on a dry basis.

Maximum  sulphur content in marine fuel

The new rules prohibit the marketing of marine fuels if the sulphur content exceeds 3.5 % by mass, while regarding the maximum sulphur content in marine gas oils this can never exceed 0.10 % by mass.

Concerning the marine fuels used in Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs), their sulphur content must not exceed (a) 1% by mass until 31 December 2014 and (b) 0.10% for the period starting from 1 January 2015.

Sulphur emissions control areas are sea areas that need special environmental protection because of their particularly fragile ecosystems. That is why stricter standards on the sulphur content of marine fuels apply there. These areas are designated by the International Maritime Organisation and include the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the North American Emission Control Area (US and Canadian coast).

The new Directive would also introduce a new provision on the sulphur fuel standard applicable outside SECAs, according to which the sulphur content of marine fuel used in the areas of their territorial seas, exclusive economic zones and pollution control zones must never exceed by mass 3.50 % as of 1 January 2012 and 0.50 % from 1 January 2020 and onwards.

The maximum sulphur content of marine fuels used in passenger ships would be limited to 1.5% as of 1 January 2012 and 0.10% from 1 January 2020. The new Directive would also further clarify the register of local suppliers of marine fuel.

Maximum sulphur content of marine fuels used by ships at berth in Union ports

The revised rules would set a sulphur content limit 0.10 % by mass for ships at berth in Union ports, unless the ships are due to be at berth for less than two hours or they switch off all engines and use shore-side electricity while at berth in ports.

Emission abatement methods

The use of emission abatement methods by ships of all flags in the ports, territorial seas, exclusive economic zones and pollution control zones of all Member States would be authorised as an alternative to using marine fuels. However, the sulphur dioxide emissions of these methods must not exceed the limit values set out in Annex 1 of the proposed Directive.

Furthermore, the Commission would be able to amend the rules regarding the maximum emission values as well as the criteria for the use of emission abatement methods, as set in Annexes 1 and 2 to the new Directive, following the adoption of delegated acts.

Concerning  the emission abatement methods used by board ships flying the flag of a Member State and falling under the scope of Directive 96/98/EC on marine equipment, these will be approved according to the provisions of that Directive.

The proposed Directive would also authorise trials of new ship emission abatement methods on vessels flying the flag of Member States, under the following conditions:
(i) The Commission and any port State concerned are notified in writing at least 6 months before trials begin 
(ii) Trials do not exceed 18 months
(iii) Ships use tamper-proof equipment for the continuous monitoring of funnel gas emissions 
(iv) Ships achieve emission reduction equivalent to the one proposed in the current proposal regarding the limits on sulphur in fuel
(v) There are proper waste management systems 
(vi) An impact assessment on the marine environment takes place and 
(vii) The trial results are communicated to the Commission within six months of the end of the trials

Sampling methods of marine fuels

The Commission can adopt delegated acts to specify the frequency of sampling of marine fuels, the sampling methods, the sample representative of the fuel examined and the information that must be included in ships' log books and bunker delivery notes.

It can also adopt delegated acts in order to clarify the information that must be part of the Member States’ report on the sulphur standards. This report must be submitted by Member States each year by 30 June.


The proposed Directive would contain 2 Annexes: Annex 1 would set out maximum emission values for abatement methods, while Annex 2 would lay down the criteria for the use of emission abatement methods.

Next Steps

The proposal will be sent to the Council and the European Parliament, following the ordinary legislative procedure. Both Parliament and Council are expected to discuss and vote on it in the beginning of 2012.