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The last decade has seen more stringent international and regional environmental regulations that aim to tackle shipborne air emissions. The next major milestone is the introduction of the global sulphur cap on 1 January 2020.

International Legislation

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex VI

Annex VI of MARPOL concerns the prevention of air pollution from ships. Pollutants include sulphur dioxide (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM) and greenhouse gases (GHG) such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and ozone depleting substances.

IMO Global Sulphur Cap

The requirement to reduce the maximum sulphur content of fuel down to 0.5% from its current limit of 3.5% in 2020 is not a surprise to the industry. It was added to MARPOL Annex VI back in 2008 but at that time an option existed to defer this change to 2025. However, in 2016 IMO rejected this option to defer. 2020 was set in stone and it has been made clear that there will be no postponement, grace period or transition period.

MARPOL specifies a maximum of 0.5% sulphur content of the fuel. However, “equivalent measures” are allowed, the most obvious being the use of exhaust gas cleaning systems EGCS – more commonly referred to as “scrubbers”.

MARPOL Annex VI Emission Control Areas (SOx, NOx and particulate matter)

The 0.1% maximum sulphur limit came into force in MARPOL emission control area (ECA) in 2015 and will remain in force.

The current status of ECAs is as follows:

  • Baltic Sea (SOx)
  • North Sea (SOx)
  • North American ECA (NOx, SOx and PM)
  • United States Caribbean Sea (NOx, SOx and PM)

Local and Regional Legislation


Peoples Republic Of China Flag

Three emission control areas have been established in China: the Pearl River Delta, the Yangtze River Delta and Bohai Bay. Since 1 January 2018, vessels at berth in any port within an emission control area should use fuel with a maximum sulphur content of 0.5% – except one hour after arrival and one hour before departure. From 1 January 2019, vessels operating within an emission control area should use fuel with a maximum sulphur content of 0.5%.

See our Signals Online article



Taiwan Flag Shutterstock523172854


All vessels calling at Kaohsiung must use 0.5 % m/m sulphur fuel or other compliant fuel from 1 January 2019.

See our Industry News article.




European Union

EU Flag SmallEU Directive 2005/33/EC came into force in 2010 and requires vessels to changeover to 0.1% m/m maximum sulphur fuel oil when ‘at berth’ in EU and European Economic Area (EEA) ports. This applies to all calling vessels, regardless of Flag. The changeover does not affect main engine operation as it is undertaken as soon as possible after arrival and as late as possible prior to departure. This therefore effectively regulates the fuel used by auxiliary engines and boilers when either alongside or at anchor.

Read the full rule here



Flag Of Turkey 30361911920


Although not a member of the EU, Turkey introduced legislation in 2012 that falls in line with the EU directive. As such, all vessels at berth in Turkish ports or operating in the inland waterways will be required to use fuel with a sulphur content of no more than 0.1%.



State of California

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The California Ocean-Going Vessel (OGV) Fuel Regulation limits the sulphur content in marine gas oil (DMA) and marine diesel oil (DMB) to 0.1%. It is in force within the OGV regulatory zone which extends 24nm from the Californian coast. This means vessels must changeover to distillate fuels before entering Californian waters.

See our Industry News article.


Hong Kong

Hong Kong Flag

New Hong Kong air pollution control regulations will enter into force on the 1 January 2019. The regulation requires all ocean going vessels entering Hong Kong waters to burn only complaint fuels such as low-sulphur marine fuel (sulphur content not exceeding 0.5%), liquefied natural gas or any other fuel approved by the Director of Environmental Protection. Vessels using onboard equipment that reduces emissions to the same or lesser levels of sulphur dioxide may be exempt from using such fuels.


See our Industry News article.