Germany: Ship caught using banned high sulphur fuel in SECA

A Panama-flagged ship has been caught using banned high sulphur fuel oil (HSFO) in a sulphur emission control area (SECA), according to Germany’s water police.

On January 3, 2024, police officers from the Water Police Department in the Port of Rostock carried out a thorough inspection of an unnamed vessel.

It was determined that the cargo ship had used banned high sulphur fuel during its voyage to Rostock within the emission control areas (ECAs) in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea regions.

According to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), 1973, the North and Baltic seas belong to a so-called sulphur emission control area. The SECA areas are regions where emissions of sulphur and sulphur oxides from seagoing vessels are restricted. Only low sulphur fuels may be used in these emission-controlled areas.

“The violation is a misdemeanor under applicable law. The water protection police in the Rostock seaport initiated corresponding proceedings against the captain and the head of the engine system,” the water police said in a statement.

“The responsible Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency set a security deposit of 52,500 euros to secure the process.”

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN body, oversees the MARPOL Convention, an international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships. It already adopted a 2020 mandatory Global Sulphur Cap, which requires the previous maximum sulphur content within fuel to be reduced from 3.5% sulphur to 0.5% sulphur. 

In 2022, the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) adopted the resolution to designate the Mediterranean Sea as a SECA within MARPOL Annex VI, which deals with air pollution prevention. The designation of the Mediterranean as an emissions control area means that as of May 1, 2025, ships will be required to use marine fuel with reduced sulphur content. The permissible sulphur content will fall from the current limit of 0.5% to 0.1 %.

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