Everything's big in America - even the ECAs
6th April 2009 16:41 GMT

As widely anticipated following the US sign-up to MARPOL Annex VI in October last year, and with the ink barely dry on the revised Annex VI – currently going through the tacit acceptance procedure – the announced joint submission by US and Canada to IMO for designation of most of their coastlines as Emission Control Areas (ECAs) marks potentially biggest expansion yet in those areas of tighter exhaust emission requirements.

In this it is necessary to remember that the revised Annex includes provision for ECAs to be established to limit emissions sulphur oxides and particulate matter (ECA-SOx) - the successor to the existing SECAs - or nitrogen oxides emissions (ECA-NOx) or, as in this case, both in order to limit all three emission species.

Of course, we have yet to see what will be made of these proposals at the next MEPC meeting in July, particularly in view of the wide sweep of the intended control areas and what will be the views of adjacent countries. Not the least, 11 years after the adoption of the original Annex, that one of the two proposers is not yet a Party to the 1997 MARPOL Protocol.

This makes for an even more interesting MEPC meeting in July – already scheduled to further grapple with the response of international shipping to the Greenhouse Gas question – all within the same Agenda item as to date all air pollution issues are considered under a single heading whereas pollution of the oceans by oil, chemicals, sewage, garbage and the rest generally represent separate issues.

Another question is when will this be resolved. If at the following MEPC meeting, scheduled for March 2010, then bearing in mind that the ECA-SOx requirements (operation on 1.00% maximum sulphur content fuel oil from 1 July 2010 reducing to 0.10% from 1 January 2015 or approved equivalents) only comes into effect some 28 months after adoption – it would be July 2012. Or later?

Plenty of time then for the bunker supply industry to be able to meet this need and for shipowners to ensure that ship’s operating in the affected areas have sufficiently flexible fuel oil storage, handling and service arrangements, and all the rest, in order to bunker and use, as required, the necessary quantities of different grade fuel oils?

And not just the hardware! Whenever this requirement comes into effect, the key to compliance will be the actions onboard. We have seen in the US over the last few years prison sentences and some truly astronomic fines being imposed resulting from the detection of offences related to Annex I, particularly in respect of the discharge of oily bilge water. There is no reason to suspect that there will eventually not be the same approach in respect of these air pollution related issues; actually using the fuel oils of required sulphur content, change-overs completed as required and the maintenance of the required records.

Indeed interesting times.

Andy Wright ,
6th April 2009 16:41 GMT

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