June 28, 2004

EU moves on ship emissions

The European Commission says ships have become the single biggest source of SO2 in the EU, because the maritime sector has lagged behind land-based industry in terms of environmental performance. Now, European environment ministers have reached a political agreement on a Commission marine fuel sulphur proposal that should reduce ships' SO2 emissions in the EU by over 500,000 tonnes every year from 2007.

Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said: "With today's agreement EU policy on clean ships is getting into gear, after battling a headwind in the Council for over a year. The new limits agreed today will dramatically reduce sulphur dioxide emissions in the EU, with reductions targeted to deliver the greatest possible benefits--around populated ports and coasts and in acid-sensitive ecosystems." She continued: "I believe that EU countries can and must do more internationally to improve environmental standards for ships. 20 EU countries have still not yet ratified the International Maritime Organization's 1997 convention on air pollution."

Marine fuel currently has a maximum sulphur content of 5.0% or 50,000 parts per million (ppm), compared with automobile gasoline, which will have 10 ppm from 2007. As part of its 2002 ship emissions strategy[1] , the Commission presented a proposal for a directive to reduce the sulphur content of marine fuels used in the EU. The main provisions were:

  • a 1.5% sulphur limit for fuels used by all ships in the Baltic Sea, North Sea & Channel. Today's political agreement incorporates this provision, and sets implementation dates starting in 19 May 2006 for the Baltic Sea.

  • the same 1.5% sulphur limit for fuels used by passenger vessels on regular services between EU ports, from 1 July 2007. EU Ministers also rubber-stamped this today, and brought the deadline forward to 19 May 2006.
  • a 0.2% sulphur limit on fuel used by inland vessels and by seagoing ships at berth in EU ports. The Council supported this, but agreed a tighter 0.1% limit delayed until 1 January 2010, to allow single-fuel ships time to adapt their fuel tanks. A further two year delay was offered to 16 unifuel ferries serving the Greek islands.

The Council made some other minor changes to the Commission draft directive, such as new text on ship trials for seawater exhaust-cleaning technology. The proposal will now go back to the European Parliament for a second reading, before final agreement by Council.

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