Mediterranean Sea As An ECA: What Operators Must Do By May 2025

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  • Mediterranean Sea emission control area for sulphur oxides and particulate matter to enter into force 1 May 2024.
  • The concept of Emission Control Areas (ECAs) was introduced to designate specific regions where stricter emissions standards are enforced.
  • These areas aim to reduce air pollution, protect marine ecosystems and improve the overall sustainability of the shipping industry.

ABS has issued an informative paper to summarize the IMO MEPC 361(79) resolution that designates the Mediterranean Sea as an Emission Control Area (ECA) and to highlight the requirements for compliance. As per every ECA, ship operators need to reduce the sulfur content of marine fuels, from the current global ceiling of 0.5% m/m to 0.1% m/m while in the Mediterranean Sea by 1 May 2025 at the latest.

Overall, the implementation of ECAs has been successful in various parts of the world, including the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, and the North American ECA. The designation of the Mediterranean Sea as an ECA (colloquially the “Med SOx ECA”) – which is the fifth recognized ECA worldwide – represents a significant step forward in addressing the environmental challenges faced by this vital waterway.

Timeline of the Mediterranean Sea as an ECA: Milestone dates of adoptions and compliance

  • 16 Dec 2022: Med SOx ECA proposal accepted
  • 1 Nov 2023: MEPC 361(79) accepted as amendment to Annex VI, introducing the new ECA
  • 1 May 2024: Amendment officially enters into force
  • 1 Jan 2025: Proposed enforcement date recommended compliance deadline
  • 1 May 2025: Grace period ends, SOx limit of 0.1% m/m in full effect

The new SOx regulations expect vessels to consider the use of new fuels that have lower sulfur content for shipping within the Mediterranean Sea. These new fuels, although experiencing a decrease in price in recent years, are still more expensive on average than fuels previously used.

Therefore, it is expected that the implementation of these regulations will result in higher shipping costs. However, according to research done in the initial MEPC proposal, there is sufficient refinery capacity and production to meet the demand for the required lower sulfur fuels within the Mediterranean region.

Alternative compliance measures, such as exhaust gas cleaning systems and alternative fuels, may also help to balance increased demands for compliant fuel types.

Actions to be implemented

ABS highlights the following actions to be implemented by 1 May 2025 at the latest:

  • Shipowners should assess their vessels’ fuel options and switch to low-sulfur fuels compliant with the 0.1% m/m sulfur content requirement. This may involve negotiating fuel supply contracts, ensuring adequate storage capacity and educating crew members on the proper handling and usage of low-sulfur fuels.
  • Ships that utilize separate fuel oils with sulfur contents above 0.1% m/m must allow adequate time for their fuel oil service systems to be completely flushed of non-compliant fuels prior to entering the Med SOx ECA. Vessels must log details of their low-sulfur fuel oils (defined as 0.1% sulfur content or below), including tank volumes, as well as the date, time and position where any fuel changeover operation is finished. This ensures compliant fuels are in use within ECA boundaries and maintains accurate records as required by maritime authorities.
  • For ships opting to continue using higher sulfur content fuel, the installation of exhaust gas cleaning systems can help reduce sulfur emissions. Shipowners should evaluate the feasibility, cost and operational implications of installing scrubbers on their vessels.
  • Exploring the use of alternative fuels, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), biofuels or hydrogen, can significantly reduce emissions within the ECA. Ship owners should assess the availability, infrastructure and compatibility of these fuels with their vessels’ engines to ensure a smooth transition.
  • Shipowners should invest in crew training programs to enhance awareness of the new emission requirements, fuel handling procedures and emission control technologies. Educating crew members about the environmental benefits, operational procedures and maintenance requirements will facilitate seamless adherence to the regulation.

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Source: ABS