The decision to implement a global sulphur cap of 0.50{18fa20ff06c34c2e3111088b2ff0a6dad22f9fc9d7fc1af2a934fcbc3d5283fd} m/m (mass/mass) in 2020 was taken by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the regulatory authority for international shipping, during its Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), meeting for its 70th session in London

Under the new global cap, ships will have to use fuel oil on board with a sulphur content of no more than 0.50{18fa20ff06c34c2e3111088b2ff0a6dad22f9fc9d7fc1af2a934fcbc3d5283fd} m/m, against the current limit of 3.50{18fa20ff06c34c2e3111088b2ff0a6dad22f9fc9d7fc1af2a934fcbc3d5283fd}, which has been in effect since 1 January 2012. The interpretation of “fuel oil used on board” includes use in main and auxiliary engines and boilers. Exemptions are provided for situations involving the safety of the ship or saving life at sea, or if a ship or its equipment is damaged.

Ships can meet the requirement by using low-sulphur compliant fuel oil. An increasing number of ships are also using gas as a fuel as when ignited it leads to negligible sulphur oxide emissions. This has been recognised in the development by IMO of the International Code for Ships using Gases and other Low Flashpoint Fuels (the IGF Code), which was adopted in 2015. Another alternative fuel is methanol which is being used on some short sea services.

Ships may also meet the SOx emission requirements by using approved equivalent methods, such as exhaust gas cleaning systems or “scrubbers”, which “clean” the emissions before they are released into the atmosphere. In this case, the equivalent arrangement must be approved by the ship’s Administration (the flag State).

The new global cap will not change the limits in SOx Emission Control Areas (ECAS) established by IMO, which since 1 January 2015 has been 0.10{18fa20ff06c34c2e3111088b2ff0a6dad22f9fc9d7fc1af2a934fcbc3d5283fd} m/m. The ECAs established under MARPOL Annex VI for SOx are: the Baltic Sea area; the North Sea area; the North American area (covering designated coastal areas off the United States and Canada); and the United States Caribbean Sea area (around Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands).

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