The revised requirements mean it will be forbidden from 2020 to use fuels containing more than 0.5 per cent of sulphur, compared with the present ceiling of 3.5 per cent.

          “This is one of the largest curbs on polluting emissions in history,” says Sigurd Enge, who runs shipping and Arctic work at Norway’s Bellona environmental foundation. “It’s really big.”

          International maritime transport is by far the biggest source of sulphur oxide (SOx) emissions, with the sulphur content of heavy fuel oil (HFO) up to 3 500 times above European limits on diesel oil for cars.

          These heavily polluting substances cause acid precipitation, but the biggest impact of the tighter rules will be felt in densely populated areas affected by heavy vessel traffic.

          That includes such countries as Egypt, Japan, Singapore, the Philippines and China, where reducing the SOx content in the air will literally extend the lives of many people.



“An unpublished study by the IMO indicates that the measures being adopted from 2020 will save as many as 200 000 people from an unnecessarily early grave,” says Enge.

          “That relates only to potential victims of lung cancer and heart disease from such pollution – and excludes loss of life because of asthma.”

          Sulphur in HFO is already strictly regulated in some sea areas – the Baltic, the North Sea south of the 62nd parallel and off the US west and east coasts.

          The NMA is responsible for seeing to it that shipping complies with the 0.1 per cent limit set for these sulphur emission control areas (Secas).

          Its inspectors have adopted new technology in the form of the Bruker S1 Titan and the Niton XL2 GOLDD™ portable measurement devices to catch environmental transgressors.

          They use X-rays to determine the sulphur content in HFO in 30-60 seconds. Anyone caught out by the checks can expect juicy fines of NOK 100-200 000.

          “In our experience, about five per cent of the ships inspected are breaching the rules,” says principal engineer Svein Erik Enge in the NMA’s section for inspection and emergency preparedness. “We have an ambitious goal for increasing the number of checks.”



“Our target for the Secas is to get them extended so that the Norwegian Sea above the 62nd parallel is also included,” observesSigurd Enge at Bellona.

          He makes it clear that the NMA and the Norwegian government on the whole have made a strong contribution to the process leading up to the new IMO rules.

          “This is a big victory for the regulation of international shipping, a sector which isn’t that easy to bring under proper control.

          “With the new regime, shipowners worldwide will have to convert to new fuels, such as liquefied natural gas and low-sulphur oil, at a cost of many billions of dollars.

          “It’s a great achievement that the negotiators have managed to break through such barriers and actually put the regulations in place.”

          The Bellona activist regards the NMA as a partner, and believes that Norway’s maritime sector is among the best in the world.

          “As a shipping nation, we benefit from strict environmental regulations quite simply because we have shipping companies and suppliers who position themselves in relation to these.

          “This type of maritime activity is the business we’re going to make our living from in the future, and the NMA plays a key role in that work.”