Ships in U.S. and Canada Waters Could Soon Be Subject to Air Pollution Limitations
Sarah S. Brehm and Michael A. Chernekoff
Jones Walker Environmental & Toxic Torts E*Lert
April 28, 2009

The MARPOL Convention is the main international convention covering prevention of pollution from ships.  It is a combination of two treaties adopted in 1973 and 1978 that has been updated by amendments.  The Marine Environmental Protection Committee (“MEPC”) of the International Marine Organization is charged with implementing MARPOL.

Annex VI was adopted in September 1997 and sets limits on sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter from ship exhausts and prohibits the deliberate emissions of ozone depleting substances in Regulations1 13 and 14.  In October 2008, even more stringent reductions were adopted under Annex VI, with increased reductions phased-in from January 2012 through January 2020.2

The Baltic Sea and North Sea are currently the only Emission Control Areas (“ECA”).  On March 27, 2009, the U.S. and Canadian governments introduced a proposal to designate specific portions of their coastal waters as Emission Control Areas.  The proposal states that ship emissions substantially contribute to ambient concentrations of air pollutants in coastal areas and migrate inland, which adversely impact both human health and the environment.  The ECA covers both the Gulf Coast as well as the Eastern and Western Coasts of both countries, extending to an outer boundary of 200 nautical miles from the territorial sea baseline.  Not included in the proposed ECA are the Pacific U.S. territories, smaller Hawaiian Islands, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Western Alaska, and the U.S. and Canadian Arctic.3

The estimated costs of implementing and complying with the proposed ECA are purported “to be small both absolutely and compared to the costs of achieving similar emissions reductions through additional controls on land-based sources.”  The governments estimate the total costs of improving ship emissions from current performance to ECA standards will be approximately $3.2 billion in 2020, or $2,600 per ton of nitrogen oxides, $1,200 per ton of sulphur dioxide, and $11,000 per ton of particulate matter avoided.4  The proposal estimates an increase in operating costs of three percent, which would increase the price of shipping a container by $18.

If adopted, the proposed ECA would be adopted as amendments to Regulations5 13.6 and 14.3 under MARPOL Annex VI.  The MEPC will consider the proposal at its next meeting in July. 


1 See pages 17–23 of the Report of the Marine Environment Protection Committee on its Fifty-Eighth Session.
2 Global emissions of sulphur dioxide are currently capped at 4.5% and will be reduced to 3.5% on January 1, 2012, and then progressively to .5%, effective January 1, 2020. Limits in Sulphur Emission Control Areas (“SECAs”), currently 1.5%, will be reduced to 1% on January 1, 2012, and .1% effective January 1, 2015. Nitrogen oxides reductions were also agreed upon, with the most stringent controls on so-called “Tier III” engines, i.e., those installed on ships constructed on or after January 1, 2016, and operating in Emission Control Areas.
3 A chart of the proposed North American ECA is found on page 64 of the proposal.
4 The report claims that these costs are comparable to the price to clean up heavy-duty diesel trucks at $2,700 per ton of nitrogen oxides and $17,000 per ton of particulate matter.
5 See pages 41–42 of the Report of the Marine Environment Protection Committee on its Fifty-Eighth Session.