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19. September 2017


Two shipping companies reported to the Danish police for sulphur pollution

Over the last two years, a so-called ‘sniffer’ has closely monitored emissions from the funnels of ships in Danish waters. To begin with, monitoring was also performed by a sniffer installed on an aeroplane. This monitoring was recently transferred to a helicopter. Thanks to the overall inspection effort, several ships using high-sulphur fuel have already been tracked down.

The Danish EPA has now reported yet another two ships to the police for emitting too much sulphur, bringing the total number of police reports to 19.

“By far the majority of shipping companies comply with the rules, but unfortunately, some ships still emit too much sulphur. Therefore, we’re putting a lot of effort into inspecting ships in Danish ports and Danish waters, and I’m pleased that our efforts seem to be reaping rewards,” said Sara Røpke, Head of Division at the Danish EPA.

Smoke containing sulphur is harmful to the environment and to human health. In 2015, strict requirements were introduced to reduce sulphur content in smoke from ships in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, and there are strong indications that this has had the intended effect: Since 2015, sulphur content in the air over Denmark has been reduced by more than 50% compared with previous years.

According to the regulations, fuel from ships may not contain more than 0.1% sulphur. Sniffer monitoring provides a much more detailed picture of compliance with the sulphur regulations in Danish waters compared with oil samples alone. However, oil samples are still required as evidence for the police reports.

At the same time, the monitoring helps to ensure equal competition in the shipping industry, as it keeps ships from using cheap fuel with too high sulphur content. According to Danish Shipping, the sector organisation for shipping in Denmark, it is of great importance for the industry that everyone meets the environmental requirements. On 18 September, representatives of Danish Shipping and from the Danish EPA visited the Great Belt Bridge to see the sniffer at work.

“Shipping companies that comply with the regulations become less competitive if other companies are able to cheat the regulations with cheap fuel. There’s a lot of money at stake, because companies can save millions by purchasing cheaper but more polluting fuel. Therefore, we’re pleased about the persistent efforts aimed at ships breaking the rules. The positive Danish experience from enforcing the regulations must be applied at international level when the regulations take effect globally,” said Maria Bruun Skipper, Director at Danish Shipping.


The sulphur requirement of max. 0.1% in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea are stricter than in many other places, but also at global level, more stringent environmental requirements are underway. From 2020, ships will not be allowed to use fuel with a sulphur content of more than 0.5%, compared with the present 3.5%. In the North Sea and the Baltic Sea and in the waters around North America, the threshold will remain at 0.1%, also after 2020.

Facts: Sulphur emissions from shipping

- Since the summer of 2015, the sniffer on the Great Belt Bridge has monitored sulphur emissions from ships. To begin with, sniffer technology was also installed on an aeroplane monitoring the Danish waters, but this mobile monitoring system has recently been transferred to a helicopter equipped with a sniffer. The helicopter can position itself over the funnels of ships and measure the sulphur content.

- When a sniffer detects that a ship is emitting too much sulphur, the Danish EPA is notified, and if the ship is headed for a Danish port, the Danish EPA can ask the Danish Maritime Authority to board the ship and take an oil sample from its fuel. The oil sample can prove whether the sulphur content is too high. If the ship is headed for a non-Danish port, the Danish EPA will notify the relevant authority that there may be grounds to monitor the ship. Since 1 January 2015, ships sailing in the North Sea, the Baltic Sea or in waters around North America have been required to use fuel with a maximum of 0.1% sulphur, unless the ship uses clean technology such as a ‘scrubber’ or liquified natural gas (LNG). This is a reduction requirement of 90% compared to the previous rules.

- Since 2015, the sulphur content in the air over Denmark has dropped significantly (by more than 50%) compared with previous years, which suggests that by far the majority of ships in Danish waters are complying with the rules, and that enforcement is working.

- Every year, the Danish Maritime Authority takes approx. 150 oil samples from ships entering Danish ports. If an oil sample reveals that the sulphur content is too high, the Danish EPA will generally report the ship to the police.

- After the stricter regulations entered into force, the Danish EPA has reported 19 ships to the police on the basis of oil samples showing too high sulphur content. This has so far led to two fines: one of DKK 375,000 for a major violation, and a second of DKK 30,000 for a minor violation. In October 2016, Member States of the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) decided to extend the cover of the tighter sulphur requirements to all other global waters. The IMO decided that from 2020 marine fuels may not contain more than 0.5% sulphur compared with the present 3.5%, unless the ship uses clean technology.