Coast Guard helps achieve ratification of revised air pollution prevention standards

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Coast Guard and the contracting parties to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973 (MARPOL 73/78) adopted new international standards for marine diesel engines and their fuels Thursday during the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee’s 58th session, held in London this week.

On the same day, the United States deposited its instrument of ratification with the International Maritime Organization for Annex VI to MARPOL 73/78. These standards will help improve global air quality by significantly reducing sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions from ocean-going vessels operating in our coastal waters and ports. The ratification comes pursuant to President George Bush signing into law the Maritime Pollution Prevention Act of 2008 on July 21.

The new geographically-based IMO regime means that ships operating in areas that can demonstrate an air quality need will be required to use the most advanced technology-forcing engines and lowest polluting fuels. In these Emission Control Areas, ships will be required to use engines that meet stringent Tier III emission control standards. Advanced aftertreatment systems likely will be employed to reduce nitrogen oxides emissions by about 80 percent. Fuel containing no more than 1,000 ppm sulfur will be required in Emission Control Areas beginning in 2015.

Globally, emissions will be reduced through near-term engine and fuel standards that will apply beginning in 2010. Concerns about serious human health and environmental impacts prompted the International Maritime Organization to adopt a requirement requiring all vessels, no matter where they are operated, to use fuel with a sulfur content not to exceed 5,000 ppm. This standard represents a 90 percent reduction from today’s global cap. This fuel standard is set to be implemented in 2020, pending a fuel availability review in 2018.

“Implementation of these IMO standards will be a very important part of a coordinated national strategy to reduce emissions from ocean-going vessels,” said Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara, the Coast Guard’s deputy commandant for operations. “I was fortunate to personally be at IMO when these important amendments were adopted. I also had the distinct pleasure to deposit the instrument of ratification for MARPOL Annex VI, on behalf of the United States.”

The Coast Guard and its federal partners worked diligently at IMO to develop these stringent international standards to address the contribution of ocean-going vessel emissions to U.S. air pollution. Emissions from ocean-going vessels are substantial and are expected to grow significantly over time. In 2001, ocean-going vessels contributed nearly six percent of mobile source nitrogen oxides, more than 10 percent of mobile source PM2.5 and about 40 percent of mobile source sulfur oxides nationwide. Without further controls, emissions from these engines could double or quadruple by 2030.

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