Last year the ECA (Emission Control Area) zones were brought to you and regulation about sulfur limits in EU. This year, the control regime appears to be made stricter as EU has made a set of rules bearing the minimum requirements for fuel sampling on ships calling to ports in the EU.  

The control directive entered into force last year merely required member states to inspect log books and bunker delivery notes (BDN) on a minimum of 10% of the total number of vessels calling to port in the given member state. 

Now EU requires member states to test the fuel oil used on board the ship on a given % of ships calling to port. The amount tested varies whether the member state is placed in an ECA, a state bordering it or those that does not border ECAs.  

In actual numbers it means that last year only 1 in a 1000 ships tested, today, 40 out of 1000 must be tested. It is a significant step in the right direction, and can be translated to 2-4% of all ships calling to port in a given EU country. 

While it may seem a small step, the change in “where” the sample is taken from will have a large effect. Seeing as only overlooking the BND or log books as MARPOL requires, isn’t nearly good enough. The issue is fuel switching. Something which on paper seems seemingly easy, but in actuality requires quite the planning. 

The fact is that when switching from a HFO (heavy fuel oil) with a larger sulfur content than the allowed (0,1%) in the ECA, means that the smallest of residue from the HFO left in the system will contaminate the compliant fuel, and can easily raise the sulfur content above the threshold level. 

Thus taking in-use samples directly from the system, will be a much more correct way of enforcing the sulfur regime. However, there is resistance to the change as it will require longer time for port state authorities to carry out the testing.  The argument is raised primarily in countries which does not border an ECA, whereas support appears to be more apparent for EU states bordering an ECA.

And it CAN be done. Both Denmark and Sweden began taking large numbers of samples for sulfur testing in 2015. 

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However you may feel about the control and sulfur regulation in ECAs, a recent study shows that it does work. The sulfur regulation represents a 96% reduction in SOx, an 80% reduction in PM and a 6% reduction in NOx compared to using HSFO. For more information on the impact read more at

* Picture by courtesy of SvilenMilev via freeimages