Ships in the EU will have to use cleaner fuel to run their engines by 2015, according to proposals published in Brussels yesterday.

The rules, already adopted by the International Maritime Organisation, are expected to be endorsed by Malta, the second biggest shipping register in the EU.

They will force all shipping registers around the globe, not just European ones, to adapt to the new environment friendly measures. The proposals will amend the EU directive on the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels and incorporate new IMO standards into EU law.

Sulphur dioxide emissions cause acid rain and generate fine dust, dangerous for human health, causing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and reducing life expectancy in the EU by up to two years.

The maximum permissible sulphur content of maritime fuels used in sensitive areas such as the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the English Channel will fall to 0.1 per cent from the previous level of 1.5 as of January 1, 2015. Other areas are to achieve an even bigger cut, to 0.5 per cent from 4.5 down by January 1, 2020.

The proposals will allow ships to use equivalent technologies, such as exhaust gas cleaning systems, as an alternative to low sulphur fuels. Other important changes include more unified reporting and verification, and sampling provisions aligned with international standards.

The fuel currently used by ships is considered to be among the most polluting due to its high sulphur content.

Crude oil is normally processed into distilled fuels, such as petrol and diesel, and residues such as heavy fuel oil and bitumen. Ships traditionally use the latter heavy fuel oils for propulsion, which can have a sulphur content of up to five per cent. In comparison, the sulphur content of fuels used in trucks or passenger cars must not exceed 0.001 per cent.

Presenting the proposals, EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said air pollution did not stop at borders and it was time for ships to come in line.

“Land sources have been subject to the attentions of regulators for some time, and the time has come for the maritime sector to deliver its fair share, all the more so as the impact on air quality is felt far beyond coastal areas,” he said.

“This proposal is an important step forward in reducing air emissions from the fast-growing maritime transport sector. It will help resolve the persistent air quality problems that continue to affect millions of Europeans, and will be part of a transformational agenda that will prepare the sector for the challenges of tomorrow.”

The proposals will have to be approved by member states and the European Parliament to enter into force.

Just a few weeks ago, Malta warned the EU not to take any unilateral action in relation to the shipping industry as these might mean ships will change flag to a non-EU register.

Transport Minister Austin Gatt had warned his colleagues in Brussels that Malta would not support any initiative not agreed beforehand with the IMO forcing all global partners to introduce the same benchmarks.

He argued that EU unilateral action would mean the death of Europe’s shipping industry.

Source: Times of Malta

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