In the previous issue of our Marine Bulletin, we noted that France and Spain have suspended the applicability of the 1.5% m/m sulphur limit on marine fuels to cruise ships.

This was done pending clarification from the European Commission which, in the current scenario marked by absolute uncertainty, will hopefully provide the steer towards uniform interpretation and implementation of Directive 1999/32/EC throughout the Community.

Well, the response of the European Commission was not long in coming.

In a letter sent to the French Directeur des Affaires Maritimes, the Head of the DG Environment of the European Commission made the following points:

• the definition of “passenger ships on regular service” in Directive 1999/32/EC does not allow one to exclude a priori cruise ships from its scope;

• the judgment issued by the European Court of Justice4 in this regard confirms the above argument;

• during the last meeting of the competent European Committee, Member States agreed to duly and promptly implement the said Directive as interpreted by the European Court of Justice;

• in light of the above judgment, the European Commission will pay more attention to the actual implementation by Member States of Directive 1999/32/EC, taking steps in case of infringement;

• the position of the European Commission with regard to the definition of “regular service” has always been a clear and shared one and it is therefore surprising that certain Member States cannot understand such definition;

• the fact that there is still debate about the possibility of using fuels with high sulphur content, while EU policies are aimed at protecting the environment and the 0.5% m/m sulphur limit is scheduled to apply from 2020 to all types of ships, seems negative.

In our opinion, these remarks are not particularly significant from a legal standpoint, particularly when considering that what is deemed “crucial” for the point at issue is the above-mentioned 4 Judgment in case C-537 of 23 November 2014. 13 judgment of the European Court of Justice, which nevertheless - as we have seen - did not resolve the issue.

Moreover, the apparent “astonishment” of the European Commission with respect to the debated points is frankly surprising and not understandable when looking at the facts, taking into account that the issue of the applicability of the 1.5% m/m sulphur limit on marine fuels to cruise ships has not yet been clarified once and for all.

We know France has already replied to the letter of the European Commission, holding firm to its stance.

The debate is therefore still going on and we will keep you updated.