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Web Alert: Greener fuels must be used near US and Canada

24 August 2012

The North American Emission Control Area (ECA), designated under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) entered into force on 1 August 2012.

It introduced stricter controls on emissions of sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter for ships trading off the coasts of Canada, the United States and the French overseas collectivity of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.  However the ECA will not come into force in Canada until it passes the necessary implementing regulations in November 2012.

This is the third designated ECA in addition to the existing ECAs in the Baltic Sea area and the North Sea area.

A fourth ECA, the United States Caribbean Sea ECA, covering certain waters adjacent to the coasts of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, was designated under MARPOL amendments adopted in July 2011.  Expected entry into force is on 1 January 2013, with the new ECA taking effect 12 months later on 1 January 2014.

Within an ECA, the sulphur content of fuel oil (expressed in terms of parts per million or ppm) must not exceed 10,000 ppm more than 1.00% m/m; falling to 1,000 ppm on and after 1 January 2015. This date could be deferred to 1 January 2025, depending on the outcome of a review, to be completed by 2018, as to the availability of compliant fuel oil.

In practice this means that ships must switch to burn low sulphur content fuel oil before entering an ECA.

Alternatively, the ship may use any “fitting, material, appliance or apparatus or other procedures, alternative fuel oils, or compliance methods”, which are at least as effective in terms of emissions reductions, as required by MARPOL Annex VI.

The EPA and the  US Coastguard have issued guidance on how to comply with the ECA. The ECA guidance clarifies that ships were not required to purchase distillate fuel to meet the ECA requirements if low sulphur fuel is not available. Transport Canada has also issued its own guidance notes. 

With regard to nitrogen oxide emissions, marine diesel engines installed on a ship constructed on or after 1 January 2011 must comply with the ‘Tier II’ standard set out in regulation 13 of MARPOL Annex VI. Marine diesel engines installed on a ship constructed on or after 1 January 2016 will be required to comply with the more stringent Tier III nitrogen oxide standard, when operated in a designated ECA.

Further details can be found on the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website.