Concern over Swedish ruling on ship structure and machinery

In a worrying final ruling by the Swedish Environmental Court, it is reported that the local authorities have been awarded the power to enforce requirements on ships entering their waters. These powers will extend to specifying the type of equipment to be carried on board vessels operating in municipality waters. The ruling appears to extend beyond just Swedish flag vessels and applies to all flags. 

Following an extended legal battle between three ferry operators operating in the Port of Helsingborg and relating to the emission of nitrogen oxide (NOx), it is understood that the ruling in this case will be used to ensure the use of exhaust gas scrubbers on these local ferries. Such a decision in the past would have been discussed under the authority of the Swedish Maritime Authority but was taken on by the Environment Agency following a powerful local environmental and media campaign. 

This decision gives cause for considerable concern as it challenges the supremacy of international law laid down in carefully negotiated and binding conventions. Sweden is a party to MARPOL 73/78 and UNCLOS and the Swedish court’s ruling permits national regulations that are not in conformity with these international treaties. Such a conflict was the basis of the litigation instigated by INTERTANKO against the U.S. State of Washington, which sought to bring in a raft of regulations including matters concerning on board equipment. INTERTANKO was ultimately successful in its challenge with the US Supreme Court ruling unanimously in its favour. The Swedish court’s decision will no doubt be carefully considered by all interested parties. Shipping as a truly global industry needs international rules and regulations rather than unilateral legislation by individual States. 

Contact:Tim Wilkins