Switching to greener fuels or investing into complex filters to get rid of sulphur emissions will increase operating costs of shipping companies, with customers expected to bear the brunt.
A new law requiring all European ship and ferry operators to cut sulphur emissions to 0.1 per cent of current levels was agreed by the European Union and will come to force on 1 January 2015.
Prompted by results of a 2005 study, which suggested sulphur emissions from shipping would surpass those from land-based resources by 2020, the new regulation raised some concerns among the UK’s ship operators.
"We support the move to reduce sulphur emissions and the introduction of tough new limits,” said Guy Platten, chief executive of the UK Chamber for Shipping.
"But the sharp increase in demand for low-sulphur fuel will see a massive spike in costs both for shipowners and potentially for ordinary diesel car users - so we need to use the new technology instead. But that technology is only now beginning to work, and could take up to two years to fit properly to all of our ships.”
The sulphur filters, called scrubbers, use sea water to extract sulphur from the ships’ exhaust gases. The technology doesn’t require any additives and the resulting waste water is deemed safe to be released back to the sea, as sea naturally contains a high amount of sulphates.
However, the cost of fitting one large ship with the filtration technology could reach up to £9.5m. Moreover, the work required to carry out the installation may take up to 50 days, during which the ship would remain economically inactive.
"Reducing sulphur is a job we agree needs doing, but it needs to be done in a pragmatic way that protects jobs as well as the environment,” Platten added. “All we're asking for is the EU to understand the practical realities we face and give us the time we need to comply."
The Chamber fears ship operators may be forced to close some routes as they won’t be profitable anymore due to the rising costs. Such closures could affect up to 2,000 workers resulting in widespread redundancies.
The ship operators have already warned it will most likely be the customers, including tourists using ferries to get to and from Britain across the English Channel, who will foot the bill for the new technology.
"Consumers will be picking up the bill for this because the shipping companies cannot bear this cost alone,” a spokesman for P&O Ferries told the Daily Mail. “Marine gas-oil is considerably more expensive than the fuel we use today, so we can predict price increases for both freight and tourist customers.”
According to the estimates, fares may rise by up to 30 per cent as a result of the regulations.
The commission called for the International Maritime Organisation, a United Nations agency, to introduce stricter rules in 2008 and eventually the Sulphur Directive was published in 2012, setting a 2015 deadline.