Bizarre situation building at the entry to the North Sea "Sulphur Emission Control Area"

Dec 17 2012

Since July 2010, ships sailing through an ECA have been required to burn 1.0% Low Sulphur Fuel Oil (LSFO). This will be reduced further, to 0.1% sulphur distillate marine fuel, from 2015 onwards. To accomplish this, ships must have segregated tanks on board for the storage of the HSFO that will be used as bunker fuel when outside an ECA, and then addtional tanks that store LSFO for use when inside the limits of an ECA.


The North Sea "Sulphur Emission Control Area" (SECA) is entered at the point a ship crosses the meridian of 5 Degrees West, see:


The port of Falmouth (Longitude 005 05'W) is situated just outside of the SECA area, and has developed a thriving trade in the supply of Low Sulphur Oil (LSO) bunkers which are loaded prior to entry into the controlled area, see:


Unfortunately, once the LSO is loaded onboard the rules require that it is used by the vessel, for a number of hours, to allow it to work completely through the engine system, ensuring that all Heavy Sulphur Oil (HSO) in the system is burned off.


Last week a situation developed where a vessel loaded LSO at Falmouth and then had to steam up and down just outside the SECA for 24 hours, increasing the level of pollution, while bleeding the new low sulphur fuel through the system until the Low Sulphur Oil Conversion Monitor confirmed that all the HSO had been burnt up.


It seems to make no sense that ships are steaming around outside ECAs waiting to bleed through the new low sulphur fuel before continuing their voyage. Surely this was not how ECAs were intended to work? While there clearly does need to be a changeover point, surely this could be carried out as part of the passage upon entering the SECA?


Where does it end? A change to the requirements for ships entering ECAs, a hole in the atmosphere above Falmouth, or the bizarre situation where a regulation that is intended to protect the environment actually creates a situation. (Imagine if two vessels,  steaming around outside an ECA in close proximity, collide and create a bigger environmental disaster with the resultant oil spill!)