Entry into Force of MARPOL Annex VI Requirements

On May 19 2005 the first wave of requirements under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex VI - environmental regulations imposing global and regional limits on air emissions from ships - came into force. The new legislation will affect the following elements:

  • the way shipowners and operators operate their vessels;
  • the type of fuel that oil bunker suppliers are allowed to supply;
  • sampling procedures; and
  • the way ship engine manufacturers will design and build engines.

As of May 19 2005 there is a global limit of 4.5% on the maximum amount of sulphur in the fuel that vessels are allowed to burn. Achieving this limit will not be problematic for shipowners or bunker fuel suppliers, as it is quite a generous limit. The global average for sulphur content in fuel is currently around 3%.

Also as of May 19 2005, Annex VI sets limits for nitrogen oxide emissions from ship exhausts and prohibits deliberate emissions of ozone-depleting substances.

Annex VI also imposes on fuel suppliers the statutory obligation to provide a bunker delivery note, which must be retained onboard the receiving vessel for a minimum of three years. Suppliers also bear responsibility for providing a fuel oil sample.

However, the next stage in the legislation may cause problems for shipowners and fuel suppliers. As of May 19 2006 the Baltic Sea area will become a sulphur emissions control area (SECA). The sulphur content of fuel oil used onboard ships in a SECA is capped at 1.5%. Another SECA covering the North Sea and parts of the English Channel is in the pipeline. Additional SECAs have not been ruled out.

EU Air Emissions Legislation

In addition, further air emissions legislation is on the horizon. The EU Sulphur Content for Liquid Fuel Directive (1999/32/EC) is broadly similar to MARPOL Annex VI and adopts the same timeframe for its SECAs. However, one striking difference is that there will be a 0.1% sulphur limit on fuel used by inland vessels and by seagoing ships at berth in EU ports from January 1 2010.


Ships flying the flag of a MARPOL Annex VI ratifying state are already subject to the new rules, as are all vessels passing through the territorial waters of a ratifying country.

However, not all countries are signatories to MARPOL Annex VI. For instance, bunker fuel suppliers from the Netherlands will not face legal penalties if they do not comply with the new regulations.

The Netherland's application of MARPOL Annex VI will be crucial to the shipping and bunker industries worldwide. All eyes will be on what happens in Rotterdam, as this is the largest port in the world and the largest bunkering hub in Europe. Rotterdam's supply of fuel oil to vessels totalled 12.2 million tonnes last year, with an estimated market value of $2.5 billion.

It is expected that bunker suppliers in the Netherlands - as well as in other countries that have not ratified MARPOL Annex VI - will still have to comply with the new rules. Dutch suppliers will be confronted with shipowners and charterers requesting international compliance with the maximum percentages of sulphur and nitrogen in fuels, and demanding bunker delivery notes and samplings in conformity with Annex VI.

This article was originally edited by, and first published on, www.internationallawoffice.com - the Official Online Media Partner to the International Bar Association and an International Online Media Partner to the Association of Corporate Counsel."

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