Ferry operators could be forced to cut services and close routes in northern Europe due to new air pollution rules being introduced in January 2015, transport ministers are being told ahead of an EU summit in Brussels tomorrow (2 December).
Ferry companies including P&O Ferries, Stena Line and Brittany Ferries, say the new rules will almost double their fuel costs and may lead to the closure of ferry services on the English Channel, North Sea and in the Baltic – with the unintended consequence of forcing thousands of lorries on to overland routes instead. They also warn of the threat to seafaring and port jobs if ferry services close down.
Through the introduction of the revised MARPOL Annex VI, the International Maritime Organisation and EU member states want ships to burn fuel with a low 0.1 per cent sulphur content from 2015 instead of the one per cent sulphur content in use today in the designated North West European Emissions Control Area.
Shipowners say this presents a challenging dilemma as such fuel will not be readily available in sufficient quality and, even if it can be made available, it is almost double the cost.
The only technical alternative is to fit ships with sulphur scrubbing abatement technology but this, after years of trials and development, is still not ready for commercial roll-out and will not be a realistic alternative to ultra low sulphur fuel by 2015, for all ships operating in the emissions control area.
“While we fully support the good and green intentions of the changes, we are having to tell European transport ministers that the proposals are unrealistic both on grounds of cost and in the time available to us,” said William Gibbons, director of the Passenger Shipping Association.
“We are being told that there is no incentive for the oil companies to invest in refining facilities to manufacture the fuel we need as they can make bigger profits elsewhere. That forces us to look at other fuel solutions such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) but there is no supply chain in place and this is likely only to be viable for new ships from 2020.”
John Garner, fleet director of P&O Ferries, said: “A decision by the International Maritime Organisation to establish the revised MARPOL Annex VI regulations in 2008 to limit the sulphur content in marine fuels to 0.1 per cent in 2015 for all ships sailing in Emissions Control Areas was not preceded by a proper impact assessment conducted by the EU member states.
“It has become increasingly obvious that the decision has a number of unforeseen consequences,” said Mr. Garner, “which is why we and others are lobbying the European transport ministers prior to their meeting tomorrow.”
Christophe Mathieu, group director, commercial and strategy, at Brittany Ferries, said: “Our longer routes, which have been extremely effective at moving freight off the roads, will be particularly vulnerable to these new unrealistic measures.”
A high level delegation of business leaders from the Swedish shipping conglomerate Stena AB, including the chairman Dan Sten Olsson, met UK Shipping Minister Mike Penning on 19 November to press their concerns.
The ferry companies are urging the UK government to conduct a full review and impact assessment by bringing forward the feasibility study already mandated in MARPOL Annex VI in 2018 to 2012/2013 and are highlighting the unintended consequences of the proposals as they currently stand.
These include the unwanted shift of freight from sea back to roads and the threat of job losses to seafarers and shipping support services in EU ports.