This will in turn reduce the amount of sulphur dioxide and particle emissions from seagoing ships. These pollutants can cause acidification of water courses, serious breathing problems and premature death. The European parliament voted overwhelmingly to reduce the amounts in a first vote last month (see related story).

Shipping has become the single biggest source of SO2 in the EU.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, said he was very pleased with the agreement and would dramatically reduce emissions.

“But,” he added, “I do believe that EU countries can and must do more to build on today’s success. We really need to work globally to reduce pollution from international shipping – but 17 EU countries have still not ratified the 1997 International Maritime Organisation Convention on Air Pollution.”

The main provisions finalised in the vote are:

  • a 1.5% sulphur limit for fuels used by all ships in the Baltic Sea from May 19th 2006, and the North Sea and Channel from autumn 2007.
  • the same 1.5% sulphur limit for fuels used by passenger vessels on regular services between EU ports, from May 19th 2006.
  • a 0.1% sulphur limit on fuel used by inland vessels and by seagoing ships at berth in EU ports from January 1st 2010.

    The limits on the new rule were criticised by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). The group says the new rule will only reduce shipping emissions by less than 10% even though a reduction of 80% was initially demanded by Parliament.

    “This is a wasted chance for cleaner air in Europe,” said Kerstin Meyer EEB Air Pollution Policy Officer. “Ship emissions could be reduced much further at very low cost. Air pollution causes severe environmental and health damage all over the EU. It is irresponsible that European Governments and the Commission blocked initiatives towards a more ambitious directive.”

    The EEB’s main criticism is that two main elements are lacking in the final directive: sulphur limits for marine fuel are not applied in the Mediterranean or the North east Atlantic, and there is no second step to further reduce the sulphur content of marine fuels to 0.5%. The group believes these elements would have given a long-term perspective to the oil and shipping industries.

    “Currently, there are discussions in many Member States about how to meet the EU limit values for air quality. But, at the same time, Member States governments in Brussels obstructed further measures, when there was a real chance to improve air quality,” added Meyer.

    By David Hopkins

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