Denmark to name sulfur cheaters

Names of carriers which violate sulfur requirements in Danish waters could soon be made public. Denmark's Minister for Environment and Food, Esben Lunde Larsen, is ready with a proposal which has already divided the shipping industry.
Photo: Jens Dresling/Ritzau
Photo: Jens Dresling/Ritzau

If a carrier violates sulfur requirements in Danish waters, it will no longer be possible to save face and reputation.

At present, Danish authorities cannot publish names of those carriers which violate sulfur emissions. However, things should be different in the future, says the Danish Minister for Environment and Food, Esben Lunde Larsen.

"The limits on sulfur content in fuel must be maintained by everyone. It is good for the environment and for people's health, and it creates fair competition conditions within shipping. It is important to send a strong signal to those who violate the law, that sulfur cheating is not acceptable," says Lunde Larsen.

Thus far, Denmark has reported 21 carriers for violating the law and sailing on fuel containing more than the permitted 0.1 percent sulfur. Altogether, seven have been issued with fines. ShippingWatch was able to access data from the authorities and name three of the carriers, which all paid fines of between DKK 30,000 (USD 5,016) and DKK 375,000.

In the future, Danish authorities should be able to publish the names of the offenders, says the minister. The Danish Environmental Protection Agency is currently in the process of developing a bill allowing the change for October this year.

Once the law is adopted, the "authorities have the authority to publish names of shipping companies which are discovered to not uphold the sulfur requirements in Danish waters," it reads.

Deterrent effect

From 2015, the sulfur requirements were sharpened for Northern Europe and North America, and no more than 0.1 percent sulfur in the emissions is allowed. Since then, the authorities in these areas known as the ECA zones have been working hard to develop ways to ensure compliance with the rules.

A particular focus is how to catch and punish vessels which overlook requirements and save money by sailing on the traditional heavy and cheaper fuel.

The Danish authorities have for instance set up a sniffer on the Great Belt Fixed Link, a bridge between the Danish islands of Zealand and Funen, which can "detect sulfur." However, it is one thing is to catch the vessels which violate the law and another is to get the industry to comply with the rules in the first place.

Industry divided

Danish Shipping has been a great advocate of publishing the names of offenders, and Executive Director Maria Skipper Schwenn welcomes the minister's announcement.

"This is something that we have long worked for at Danish Shipping, as it is highly important for the industry. The way we deal with the costly sulfur requirements is critical to maintaining fair competition between the carriers and at the same time it has environmental gains," she tells ShippingWatch.

"It should not be possible to be able to compete by sailing on illegal fuel. We want to make it a commercial issue so that customers can opt not to use those carriers which have not complied with the rules."

According to ShippingWatch's sources, not everyone in the industry is enthused by the bill. Some question whether it is really in the public interest and suggest that there is a risk of punishing carriers who beleive they have bought the right fuel but the percentages in the delivered fuel were not within the rules.

This was the explanation from Dutch carrier MF Shipping Group, which in 2016 received a fine of DKK 30,000 for sailing on fuel with 0.12 percent sulfur content in Danish waters.

According to Maria Skipper Schwenn, it is important to remember that the carriers' names will be published precisely because they have received a fine, the last stage of a legal process.

"It builds on legal grounds. The carrier has every opportunity to explain what has happened. If a carrier believes a bunker supplier cheated, there is an opportunity for the carrier to defend itself. So it is completely acceptable. It is important to remember that the size of the fine does not correspond to the gain made by sailing on incorrect fuel," she says.

She hopes other countries will follow the Danish initiative.

English Edit: Lena Rutkowski

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