Compliance with the EU Ultra-Low Sulphur Fuel Directive

31 December 2009

From 1st January 2010, Council Directive 2005/33/EC requires European Union (EU) member countries to ensure that ships within an EU port consume only fuel oil with a sulphur content by mass of 0.1% or less (ultra-low sulphur fuel).

The requirements apply to ships berthed or at anchor and only very few exceptions, such as for ships scheduled to be within port for less than two hours, are permitted. The Directive provides that crew should be allowed sufficient time to complete any necessary fuel change-over operation but that such change-over should be effected as soon as possible after arrival and as late as possible before departure.

However, many ships are fitted with boilers designed to burn Heavy or Intermediate Fuel Oil, but ultra-low sulphur grades of such fuels may not be widely available. In most cases, class approved modifications would enable the boiler to switch between HFO / IFO and the much more widely available ultra-low sulphur grades of distillate fuel. The importance of a class approved conversion is emphasised by industry concerns that an attempt to burn a distillate fuel in an unmodified boiler could create the risk of a furnace explosion.

Industry reports suggest that many operators will have been unable to conduct the necessary boiler conversions by 1 January 2010.  Hence, several industry organisations have pressed the EU Commission to exempt from compliance with the Directive any ship with an unmodified boiler but which can demonstrate that all reasonable steps have been taken to comply.

The EU Commission has recently published a Frequently Asked Questions document on compliance with the ultra-low sulphur fuel Directive. The document confirms, at the third last paragraph, that there will be no exemption to compliance but that the EU member states "may consider the existence of an approved retrofit plan when assessing the degree of penalties to be applied to non-complying ships."

A copy of the FAQ document is attached.