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EU parliament approves sulphur directive

A directive on sulphur emissions from shipping proposed by Finnish Green MEP Satu Hassi has been approved by the European parliament.

Suomenlinnan lautta takaapäin lähtee liikkeelle.
Ships will have to reduce sulphur emissions in the Baltic Sea from 2015. Image: Elina Jämsén / Yle

The directive restricts the sulphur content of fuel used in the shipping industry to 0.1 percent in the waters off Finland.

The Baltic Sea is classified as a Sulphur Emission Control Area under the directive, which means stricter limits than for waters in southern Europe.

The new limit for the Baltic Sea, set at a tenth of current levels, will come into force in 2015. In EU waters outside the Sulphur Emission Control Areas, a limit of 0.5 percent will apply from 2020.

Although Finnish industry has criticised the directive for the costs it will impose on exporters, proponents say that it will save tens of thousands of lives.

“Highly polluting shipping fuels have a serious impact on the environment but also on public health: air pollution from ships is estimated to cause 50,000 premature deaths per year in Europe,” said Hassi, who acted as the parliament’s rapporteur on the matter, in a statement on her website.

Opportunity for Finnish companies?

The directive could also benefit some Finnish factories. Wärtsilä is a leading producer of so-called 'scrubbers' that remove the sulphur from emissions before they enter the atmosphere.

Jorma Kämäräinen of the Finnish Transport Safety Agency estimates that around a third of vessels affected by the legislation will fit scrubbers, while the remainder will switch to low-sulphur fuel.

In its latest budget proposal, the government has allocated 30 million euros to help shipowners fit their vessels with scrubbers. Each unit costs between 2-5 million euros.

Jyri Häkämies, the Minister of Economic Affairs, says that the government will investigate ways to support exporters hit by increased costs while complying with EU competition rules.

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