Marine Emissions regulations: promoting green practices

On January 1, 2020, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) implemented a regulation for a 0.50% global sulphur cap for marine fuels. Previously limited to 3.50%, this new regulation is an effort to reduce the amount of sulphur oxides released into the air.

The Emission Control Areas (ECAs) will remain at the 2015 standard of 0.1%. In addition, MARPOL Annex VI was amended to set more stringent NOx emission standards, especially for vessel operation in designated ECAs. Engines rated above 130kW installed on vessels operating in ECAs are subject to the Annex VI Tier III NOx standards while operating in the ECA. A key example is the IMO NOx Tier III limits. These limits apply to engines installed on or after January 1, 2016, that are operating in ECAs and establish a strict limit on their emissions.

The IMO 2020 sulphur cap aims to promote green practices within the industry; fortunately, already established measures have paved the way for more environmentally friendly shipping.

For the European market, Tier III regulations came into effect in the North Sea and Baltic Sea ECAs on January 1, 2021. The shipping industry, with the support of the IMO regulatory framework, has already begun the transition towards a sustainable future.

The IMO has adopted and will continue to develop measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the sulphur content of ships’ fuel oil, and implement further measures to lower the environmental footprint of the shipping industry.

Reducing sulphur emissions

Vessel operators have a couple of options to ensure that you comply with the new International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulation sulphur limits. One option is to switch to a lower-sulphur fuel that is compliant with the new IMO rules – except that the cost, widespread availability, and specifications of a new fuel for use in marine engines are still uncertain.

Another option is to use scrubbers to remove pollutants from ships’ exhausts, which would then allow them to continue to use higher-sulphur fuels.

After an availability review of compliant low-sulphur fuel oil, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations mandated that the global fuel sulphur limit of 0.50% be enforced as of January 2020. This requirement is in addition to the 0.10% sulphur limit in the North American, US Caribbean, North Sea, and Baltic Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs).

Vessels that have exhaust gas cleaning systems installed will be allowed to continue using HSFO.

Regional sulphur limits

Varying regional sulphur limits

The European Union Sulphur Directive stipulates a maximum of 0.10% sulphur content for ships in EU ports. In certain EU countries, the Water Framework Directive constrains the discharge of marine scrubber water. Belgium and Germany have prohibited the discharge of scrubber water in many areas, constraining the operation of open-loop scrubbers. Other EU countries may follow suit, with no common EU practice likely to be agreed upon.

In China, as of January 1, 2020 vessels operating in the Inland ECAs (Yangtze and Xijiang River) shall use fuel with a sulphur content not exceeding 0.10%. The same will apply within the Hainan Coastal ECA from January 1, 2022. In addition, discharging wastewater from scrubbers is banned within inland Emission Control Areas (ECAs), port waters, and the Bohai Bay waters.

California’s Air Resources Board (ARB) enforces a 0.10% sulphur limit within 24 nautical miles of the California coast. The regulation does not allow any other compliance options other than low-sulphur marine gas or diesel oil (DMA or DMB). A temporary research exemption may be granted, allowing the use of a scrubber.

The application must be sent before entering California waters. After a formal review of the regulation, California legislators have decided to retain it as an addition to the ECA requirements. Both sets of regulations must be complied with when calling at port in California.

Our Contacts in Your Region

Carolyn O’Connor Marine Emissions Americas +1 (732) 841-9163

Nishant Bahl Marine Emissions EMEA +49 201 6496 1853

Jeremy Sim Marine Emissions Asia Pacific +65 6914 2187


Contact us today by completing the short form to find out more about our specialty chemical product line, or if you have a question about our marine emission solutions.

Carolyn O’Connor
Marine Emissions Americas
+1 (732) 841-9163


Brenntag has the capability to provide marine chemicals in different concentrations directly to your vessel or shore site.

Reducing NOx Emissions

There is a change of implementation of local or regional regulations for NOx emissions on top of existing Marpol requirements.

Safety, Quality & Handling

At Brenntag, safety is of paramount importance and is an essential part of our corporate strategy – SAFETY FIRST is our core value.

Scrubber Systems

Scrubbers have become an important, established technology in the maritime business.