Sulphur Emission Control Area

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Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs) or Emission Control Areas (ECAs) are sea areas in which stricter controls were established to minimize airborne emissions (SOx, NOx, ODS, VOC)[1] from ships as defined by Annex VI[2] of the 1997 MARPOL Protocol which came into effect in May 2005.[3][4] Annex VI contains provisions for two sets of emission and fuel quality requirements regarding SOx and PM, or NOx, a global requirement and more stringent controls in special Emission Control Areas (ECA).[5] These regulations stemmed from concerns about the contribution of the shipping industry to "local and global air pollution and environmental problems." By July 2010 a revised more stringent Annex VI was enforced with significantly tightened emissions limits.[1]

As of 2011 there were four existing ECAs: the Baltic Sea, the North Sea,[4] the North American ECA, including most of US[6] and Canadian coast[5] and the US Caribbean ECA.[5] Also other areas may be added via protocol defined in Annex VI. ECAs with nitrous oxid thresholds are denoted as Nitrogen Oxide Emission Control Areas (NECAs).

Sulphur limits for fuel in SECA[7]
before 1 July 2010 1.50% m/m
between 1 July 2010 and 1 January 2015 1.00% m/m
after 1 January 2015 0.10% m/m
General sulphur limits in other sea areas
before 1 January 2012 4.50% m/m
between 1 January 2012 and 1 January 2020 3.50% m/m
after 1 January 2020[note 1] 0.50% m/m


In 1972 with the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, widespread concerns about air pollution led to international cooperation. Air pollution from "noxious gases from ships' exhausts" was already being discussed internationally. On 2 November 1973 the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships was adopted and later modified by the 1978 Protocol (MARPOL 73/78). MARPOL is short for Marine Pollution. In 1979, the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, the "first international legally binding instrument to deal with problems of air pollution" was signed.[3] In 1997 the regulations regarding air pollution from ships as described in Annex VI of the MARPOL Convention were adopted. These "regulations set limits on sulphur oxide (SOx) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from ship exhausts and prohibit deliberate emissions of ozone-depleting substances."[2] The current convention is a combination of 1973 Convention and the 1978 Protocol. It entered into force on 2 October 1983. According to the IMO, a United Nations agency responsible for the "safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships", as of May 2013, 152 states, representing 99.2 per cent of the world's shipping tonnage, are parties to the convention.[8]


As of 2011 existing ECAs include the Baltic Sea(SOx, adopted 1997; enforced 2005) and the North Sea (SOx, 2005/2006 adopted July 2005; enforced 2006),[4] the North American ECA, including most of US[6] and Canadian coast (NOx & SOx, 2010/2012)[5] and the US Caribbean ECA, including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (NOx & SOx, 2011/2014).[5][9]

New regulations 2013

In 2013 new regulations described in a chapter added to the MARPOL Annex VI came into affect in order to improve "energy efficiency of international shipping."[10]


  1. May be postponed to 1 January 2025


  1. 1.0 1.1 Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, International Maritime Organization (IMO), 2014a, retrieved 4 May 2014 
  2. 2.0 2.1 New rules to reduce emissions from ships enter into force, Briefing 23, International Maritime Organization, 18 May 2005, retrieved 4 May 2014 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships, International Maritime Organization (IMO), 2008, retrieved 4 May 2014 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Sulphur Oxides, International Maritime Organization, 2014, retrieved 4 May 2014 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Emission StandardsInternational: IMO Marine Engine Regulations: Background, Diesel Net, September 2011, retrieved 4 May 2014  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "diesel_net" defined multiple times with different content
  6. Sulphur oxides (SOx) – Regulation 14, International Maritime Organization (IMO) 
  7. Status of Convention, International Maritime Organization, 2013, retrieved 4 May 2014 
  8. Special Areas under MARPOL, International Maritime Organization, 2014b, retrieved 4 May 2014 
  9. Hughes, Technical Officer, Edmund (February 2013), A new chapter for MARPOL Annex VI – requirements for technical and operational measures to improve the energy efficiency of international shipping, International Maritime Organization