The European Union has introduced a directive aimed at reducing sulphur emissions from marine fuels.
The directive is guided by standards developed at the International Maritime Organisation. It progressively reduces the maximum sulphur content of marine fuels from the current 3.5 per cent to 0.5 per cent by January 2020.
In some fragile ecosystems such as the Baltic Sea and the North Sea including the English Channel, the maximum sulphur content will be reduced to 0.1 per cent, already in 2015.
Ships traditionally use heavy fuel oils which can have a sulphur content of up to 5 per cent. Sulphur dioxide emissions cause acid rain and generate fine dust.
As an alternative to low sulphur fuels, ships can opt for equivalent compliance methods such as exhaust gas cleaning systems or LNG-powered ships.
By 18 June 2014 at the latest, member states will have to amend their existing legislation on the quality of marine fuels to align it with the new directive.
From 2015 onwards, member states are asked to ensure that ships use fuels with a sulphur content of not more than 0.10 per cent in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea including the English Channel. Equivalent compliance methods, such as exhaust cleaning systems, are accepted.
From 2020 onwards, ships operating on all other European Sea areas will have to use fuels with sulphur content below 0.50 per cent.