Important differences between the EU Sulphur Directive and IMO's MARPOL Annex VI requirements

In July this year the European Union (EU) adopted significant amendments to the EU Directive 1999/32, also known as the EU Sulphur Directive (2005/33), as reported in Weekly NEWS No 30/2005 of 29 July 2005. These amendments have in large aligned the EU Sulphur Directive with the IMO's MARPOL Annex VI requirements. However there still are a few important differences which we would draw to your attention:  

(1)   Differing dates for the commencement of the North Sea/English Channel Sulphur Emissions Control Area (SECA)

(2)   Requirements that ships use very low sulphur content fuels while "at berth". 

(1)   North Sea/English Channel becoming a SECA. According to IMO, the North Sea/English Channel will become a SECA (i.e. where fuels with a maximum sulphur content of 1.5% must be used) on 21 November 2007, while the interpretation given by the EU Commission to their own Sulphur Directive is:
"In the North Sea and Channel SOxECA, operators of all ships other than passenger vessels should comply with the 1.5% S fuel limit from 11 August 2007." (Passenger ships must, however, comply with the 1.5% S fuel limit from 11 August 2006 whilst on regular services in European waters.)

We have no doubt that EU Member States will implement this requirement within their 12 nautical mile territorial zone, which according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is under their jurisdiction. But while the EU can enforce this requirement in its own territorial waters (12 miles), we cannot clarify whether they could legally monitor enforcement in international waters. However, bearing in mind that the difference between the IMO and EU enforcement dates for ships (other than passenger ships) is only 3 months and 10 days, we cannot foresee that this discrepancy would create too much of a problem as long as ship operators take it into account when trading in the North Sea/English Channel at this time. 

(2)   Use of very low sulphur fuels - Before these amendments, the EU Sulphur Directive required that all marine gas oils (MGO) and marine diesel oils (MDO) used by ships in intra-European voyages and when in EU ports should have a sulphur content of maximum 0.2%. The lack of supply of these oils has created a number of problems and since the original EU Sulphur Directive did not cover residual fuels, many ships have been forced to use exclusively intermediate fuel oil (IFO) and heavy fuel oil (HFO) when in Europe 

The amendments have changed the situation and address all marine fuel oils but with one significant change: from 11 August 2006, the 0.2% sulphur limit will apply ONLY to DMA and DMX grade marine gas oils (MGOs) but no longer to DMB and DMC grade marine diesel oils (MDOs), which are commonly used by sea-going ships. As the ISO specification of grade DMB is close to the specification of grade DMA (the differences being in order to allow for the bunkering of DMA through a contaminated bunkering hose), one could assume that if MGOs are not available, the ship could use grade DMB for a short period of time and avoid the problem of non-compliance due to lack of supply. 

Members should also be aware that from 1 January 2010, when ships are at berth they will be required to use only fuels with a 0.1% sulphur content.  

Contact: Dragos Rauta