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UN’s new rules for ships in the Arctic region

Topics Covered: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

UN’s new rules for ships in the Arctic region

What to study?

For Prelims: Overview of the new rules, about MARPOL.

For Mains: Sulphur emissions- concerns, challenges and ways to address them.

Context: On January 1, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has issued new rules aiming to reduce sulphur emissions, due to which ships are opting for newer blends of fuels.

But, recently environmental activists called for a ban on the use of new low sulphur marine fuel in the Arctic region, citing a research which shows that blends of very low-sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO) contribute to highly polluting black carbon emissions in the environment.

What do the new IMO rules say?

The IMO has banned ships from using fuels with a sulphur content above 0.5 per cent, compared with 3.5 per cent previously.

The new limits are monitored and enforced by national authorities of countries that are members of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex VI.

Under the new policy, only ships fitted with sulphur-cleaning devices, known as scrubbers, are allowed to continue burning high-sulphur fuel.

Alternatively, they can opt for cleaner fuels, such as marine gasoil (MGO) and very low-sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO).

There are complaints against VLSFO as well, as testing companies have claimed that high sediment formation due to the fuel’s use could damage vessel engines.


The new regulations, called IMO 2020, have been regarded as the biggest shake up for the oil and shipping industries in decades. It affects more than 50,000 merchant ships worldwide.

Concerns associated with Sulphur usage:

Sulphur oxides (SOx), which are formed after combustion in engines, are known to cause respiratory symptoms and lung disease, while also leading to acid rain.

About International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL):

The Convention was adopted on 2 November 1973 at IMO.

It includes regulations aimed at preventing and minimizing pollution from ships – both accidental pollution and that from routine operations.

All ships flagged under countries that are signatories to MARPOL are subject to its requirements, regardless of where they sail and member nations are responsible for vessels registered on their national ship registry.

Sources: Indian Express.