Historically, the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels was regulated by Directive 93/12/EC which placed restrictions on the marketing of diesel fuels used in road vehicles and gas oils used for off-road transport (but excluding aviation). The provisions on fuels for road vehicles (compression-ignition) were subsequently repealed and replaced by those in Directive 98/70/EC. The requirements concerning the sulphur content of gas oils now appear in Directive 1999/32/EC which also addresses the sulphur content of heavy fuel oil, heating oil and marine fuels following the incorporation into EU law of rules adopted by the International Maritime Organization. The incorporation of IMO standards into EU law aimed, inter alia, at reinforcing the restricted international monitoring and enforcement regime.
The latest significant revision of the Directive arises from the Commission strategy to reduce atmospheric emissions from seagoing ships and was reflected in Directive 2005/33/EC, which introduced, inter alia, the IMO concept of Sulphur Emissions Control Areas (SECAs) and the associated stricter fuel standards. The maximum sulphur content of fuels marine fuel was limited to a maximum of 1.5% for ships operating in the Baltic Sea as from 2006 and in the North Sea and the English Cannel as from 2007 (frequently asked questions). In addition, and in recognition of the need to further improve air quality for the protection of human health beyond the SECAs, some requirements that went beyond the IMO rules were introduced of which the most important are:
The introduction of a possibility to test and use the emission abatement technologies.
From 1 July 2010, when the 2008 amendments to MARPOL Annex VI enter into effect, ships operating in the Sulphur Emission Control Areas comprising the Baltic Sea, North Sea and English Channel will need to use fuel not exceeding 1.00% sulphur. More information including questions and answers can be found here.
On 1 January 2010, a number of changes to fuel requirements for shipping will enter into effect. The most prominent one is the requirements for all ships to use fuel with a sulphur content of 0.1% or less while at berth in a EU port. Questions and answers on this requirement can be found here.
On 21 December 2009, the European Commission adopted a Recommendation on the safe implementation of the use of low sulphur fuel by ships at berth in EU ports. The Recommendation can be found here.
On 8 May 2006, the European Commission adopted the Recommendation on the promotion of shore-side electricity for use by ships at berth in EU ports. Shore-side electricity means providing electricity to ships at berth in ports from the national grid instead of ships producing electricity using their own engines. This eliminates local air and noise emissions from ships' engines while at berths in port.
The Recommendation is not legally binding. Its objective is to promote the consideration of shore-side electricity as a means of abating ships emissions in EU ports, particularly in populated areas which suffer from poor air quality. It aims to do this by providing information on practicalities, benefits and costs; by calling for harmonized international standards; and by highlighting the possible use of electricity tax reductions as an incentive to ship operators to use shore-side electricity.