The International Maritime Organization (IMO) recently amended the International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL 1973/78) by adopting the 1997 Protocol enacting Annex VI (Regulations for the Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships). The amendment arose as a result of a declaration by the IMO that air pollution from ships damages the environment of both sea and land and creates major health risks for populations of both coastal and inland areas. Further, it declares that such pollution can trigger acute respiratory symptoms of asthma and bronchitis, and may even cause death.

The IMO amended Annex VI, which came into force in May 2005, in October 2008. Among other things, the revised Annex VI permits the establishment of “Emission Control Areas” (ECAs), where stringent requirements apply to emissions of sulphur oxides (SOx) and particulate matter (PM), or nitrogen oxides (NOx), or all three of those types of emissions. ECAs had already been created and brought into force for SOx emissions in the Baltic Sea (2006) and the North Sea (2007). In 2009, Canada, the United States and France made a joint application to the IMO for the establishment of a North American ECA, under revised Annex VI, for the reduction of SOx, PM and NOx emissions. The Marine Environmental Protection Committee of the IMO approved the request on March 26, 2010. The North American ECA came into being as of August 1, 2011 and the rules on emissions are expected to come into force on August 1, 2012.

The North American ECA encompasses a massive ocean area extending up to 200 nautical miles from the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States and Canada, as well as the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon and the eight main Hawaiian Islands. Excluded from the ECA, for the time being at least, are Pacific U.S. territories, the smaller Hawaiian Islands, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Western Alaska including the Aleutian Islands and the U.S. and Canadian Arctic. Also excluded for now are the Great Lakes, although they will be subject to similar domestic regulations in both Canada and the U.S. However, the ECA would not extend into marine areas subject to the jurisdiction of other States (e.g. Mexico). Its boundaries are shown on this map:

Click here for map

Effective July 1, 2010, the sulphur content of fuel used by vessels in the North American ECA may not exceed 1.0%. Beginning in January 2015, that maximum sulphur content will be reduced to 0.1 percent (1000 ppm). Beginning in 2016, new engines on vessels operating in these waters must meet NOx standards representing an 80% reduction from current ones. The reductions can be achieved through the use of lower sulphur (distillate) fuels and/or the use of “aftertreatment technologies” (e.g. exhaust gas “scrubbers” or selective catalytic reduction systems). Switching to distillate fuel may require vessels to be modified with additional fuel tanks or modified fuel injectors or fuel pumps.

It is estimated that implementation of the ECA will reduce emissions of SOx by 834,000 tons (86%), NOx by 294,000 tons (23%) and PM by 85,000 tons (74%) each year, in relation to current performance levels of ships in the waters concerned. By 2020, reducing the emission levels as envisaged would save an estimated 8,300 lives in Canada and the United States combined, while allowing over 3 million people in the two countries to experience relief from acute respiratory symptoms each year. The monetized health-related benefits of the ECA are reckoned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be as much as US $110 billion in 2020. For Canada, the benefits are valued at over CDN $900 million, with the impact mostly in British Columbia, the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence region and the Atlantic Provinces.

When the proposal was submitted to the IMO, it was estimated that the total costs by 2020 resulting from establishing the North American ECA would be approximately US $320 billion. For a liner ship operating on a route between Singapore, Seattle and Los Angeles/ Long Beach (about 1,700 nm of which would fall within ECA waters), the increased cost per 20-foot equivalent container was calculated at US $18. For a seven-day Alaska cruise ship operating wholly within the ECA, the estimated increase in the price per passenger was US $7 per day. The joint U.S. – Canadian proposal foresaw that these modest increases could be passed on in the form of slightly higher prices for marine transportation services.

As August 1, 2012 approaches, shipowners and managers of vessels trading in or into the maritime zones located within the North American ECA must give careful consideration to how the new emission standards, especially those taking effect in 2015, will affect their companies and, indirectly, their customers. Transport Canada is working with the EPA in the U.S. to develop a bi-national regulatory scheme, which, in Canada, will no doubt entail regulations under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. BLG will be pleased provide its clients with assistance in interpreting and applying the new rules when the time comes.