Norwegians hit out on ship-sulphur deadlock

Developing countries block moves to cut sulphur in ship fuel, give North Sea special status

A senior Norwegian government official blasted developing countries tonight for opposing European efforts to reduce the global legal limit on sulphur in shipping fuel and make a special lower limit in the North Sea.

Governments from around the world are meeting in London over two weeks to discuss these and other issues relating to the "Marpol" convention for the prevention of pollution from ships. Led by Norway, seven European countries have called for the North Sea to be made a "sulphur oxides emission control area".

This would allow a sulphur limit in fuel of 1.5% to be imposed on ships operating in the area, compared with the present global limit of 5%. According to a report submitted to the meeting by Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK, shipping in the North Sea emitted about 385,000 tonnes of sulphur oxides in 1990. These emissions are estimated to contribute up to a quarter of sulphur deposition in neighbouring land areas.

Mexico, the Bahamas and Liberia opposed the European move, supported by Latin American countries, Ivar Manum, the head of Norway's delegation told ENDS Daily this evening. After three days of discussions, it is now "very doubtful that something will be decided," he said. "It is very disappointing that a negative majority can stop progress on such an important issue."

Mr Manum roundly criticised the countries opposing the European proposal. "There are delegations like Belize, Egypt and Mexico which say there is no need or that it is premature," he said. "The simple reason [for their opposition] is that when they go home [they have] nothing to explain."

The deadlock also highlights serious deficiencies in the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) as a forum for agreeing on pollution controls, Mr Manum said. "It shows how difficult it is for the IMO to be proactive....There is always a very negative majority."

The sulphur limit debate is part of negotiations to agree a new protocol to Marpol setting stricter controls on pollution from shipping. The draft protocol includes measures to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and ozone-depleting substances, controls on shipboard waste incinerators, and other elements. Most are likely to be finalised next week, according to Mr Manum.

Another area of consensus is the granting of special area status for sulphur control measures to the Baltic Sea, leaving Mr Manum bemused. "Many speakers have said that the Baltic and the North Sea are more or less the same area, not only environmentally, but also shipping-wise," he said.

On the broader issue of a "global cap" on sulphur little has been achieved, according to Mr Manum. Many countries have argued for the 5% limit to be substantially cut, supported by a proposal from the International Chamber of Shipping for an immediate reduction to 3.5% followed by a further cut to 3%. "But there has not been much movement from 5%," said an exasperated Mr Manum, despite research showing that the worldwide average sulphur content of shipping fuel is 2.7% and there is virtually none containing over 4.5%.

Follow Up:
International Maritime Organisation, tel: +44 171 417 8844.

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