Sulphur Oxides (SOx), remarkably Sulphur Dioxides (SO2), are emitted when fuels containing sulphur are combusted. Sulphur dioxide is a pollutant that contributes to acid deposition, which, in turn, can lead to potential changes in soil and water quality. The subsequent impacts of acid deposition can be significant, including adverse effects on aquatic ecosystems in rivers and lakes and damage to forests, crops and other vegetation.
As a secondary particulate matter precursor, SO2 also contributes to the formation of particulate aerosols in the atmosphere. Particulate matter is an important air pollutant due to its adverse impacts on human health, and SO2 is therefore also indirectly linked to effects on human health.
In the EU, SOx emissions from ships are regulated by Directive (EU) 2016/802, known as the 'Sulphur Directive'. It establishes limits on the maximum sulphur content of gas oils, heavy fuel oil in land-based applications as well as marine fuels. The Directive also contains some additional fuel-specific requirements for ships calling at EU ports, obligations related to the use of fuels covered by the Directive and the placing on the market of certain fuels (e.g. marine gas oils).
The Directive was last amended in 2012 in order to further adapt the European Union's legislation to developments at international level under MARPOL Annex VI. Since 1 January 2015, stricter sulphur limits for marine fuel in SECAs apply (0,10 %) as well as in sea areas outside SECAs (3,50 %). In addition, a 0.1% maximum sulphur requirement for fuels used by ships at berth in EU ports was introduced from 1 January 2010. Furthermore, passenger ships operating on regular services to or from any EU port shall not use marine fuels if their sulphur content exceeds 1,50 % in sea areas outside the SECAs.
EMSA has been providing technical assistance to the European Commission on the preparation of amendments to the Sulphur Directive, development of related Commission Decisions or reviewing of the annual reports from the Member States. Based on an agreed action plan, the Agency supports the implementation of the Directive through the development of inspection guidance and the organization of training seminars for sulphur inspectors. Furthermore, the Agency provides technical assistance to the Commission and the Member States during the Sulphur Committee.
EMSA also facilitates a harmonized reporting of the implementation and enforcement of the Sulphur Directive by the Member States. To this end, the Agency developed the dedicated European Union information system known as THETIS-S for the recording of the outcome of the verifications on board which is available since 1 January 2015.
EMSA acts as technical secretariat of the European Sustainable Shipping Forum (ESSF) which was conceived in response to the challenges created by the Sulphur Directive. In particular, the Agency was deeply involved in its Implementation sub-group which had a central role in carrying out the most urgent tasks facilitating a timely and cost-effective implementation and enforcement of the Sulphur Directive.
EMSA further monitors developments at international level related to SOx emissions from shipping through its participation in various forums and conferences. On behalf of the European Commission, the Agency closely follows progress at IMO on various related issues like working groups on air emissions, introduction of a global cap and correspondence groups on fuel oil availability and quality.