CARB is actively enforcing the low sulphur fuel regulations.

Low sulphur fuel regulations

Since the re-adoption of its low sulphur fuel mandates that went into effect in July 2009, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has been actively enforcing the regulations.[1] CARB inspectors conduct dockside visits that include collecting fuel samples for testing and reviewing records and fuel switching procedures.  Out of nearly 400 inspections, CARB has written 22 Notices of Violation.  The bulk of the notices written have been for record-keeping violations or for fuel switching that has occurred too far into California waters.

As most ships that call on California are now well aware, CARB’s regulations require oceangoing vessels to utilize marine gas oil, or marine diesel oil with a sulphur content of 0.5 per cent, in all main engines, auxiliary engines and auxiliary boilers from 24 nautical miles from shore.  This sulphur limit is set to decrease to 0.1 percent on 1st January 2012.

The regulations also provide for a few exemptions, most notably an exemption for “essential modifications”, where vessels demonstrate that a modification to equipment is necessary in order to utilize the low sulphur fuels.  So far, CARB has issued slightly under 450 of these exemptions, mostly for auxiliary boilers on tankers.

On 12th October 2010 CARB held a rule workshop to discuss proposed modifications to the low sulphur fuel regulations.  CARB is proposing to extend the area in which the rule applies in Southern California, consistent with the Contiguous Zone.  This approximately doubles the regulated area by extending it another 24 nautical miles from the Channel Islands.  The reason for this change, as explained by CARB staff, is two-fold.  First, the US Navy has noted a sharp increase in traffic through the Point Magu Sea Range that is used by the Navy for testing and training.  The Sea Range is outside the current 24 nautical mile zone in which low sulphur fuel is required, but within the Contiguous Zone.  Additionally, CARB believes that ships are changing their routes from the established Santa Barbara Channel shipping lanes to a route through the test range in order to avoid application of the regulations.  Because the ships are not switching to low sulphur fuel in that area, the rule is not achieving the emission reductions CARB anticipated when it first adopted the rule.  CARB is currently conducting air quality modeling to evaluate the impacts of the changes in vessel routes, which CARB staff expects will be completed by the end of the year.  This will be followed by a second workshop on the proposal.

“CARB is currently conducting air quality modeling to evaluate the impacts of the changes in vessel routes.”

In addition, CARB is considering other minor amendments to the regulations, including changes to the non-compliance fee, to account for partial compliance with the regulations.  Currently, a ship may opt to pay a fee of USD 45,500 if it notifies the agency before it arrives in California that it will not be in compliance.  This fee increases with each visit and applies whether the ship fails to comply in whole or in part.  The fee must be paid before the vessel leaves the California port.

CARB staff also indicated at the 12th October workshop that they do not believe there is a major issue with loss of propulsion due to fuel switching.  They stated that in almost all instances where loss of propulsion occurred, the ships were maneuvering, so the loss of propulsion is not likely associated with switching.  CARB has also noticed a downward trend in the number of loss of propulsion incidents since the beginning of rule implementation.

If you have questions, comments or information regarding implementation of the CARB regulations, this is the best time to contact CARB staff, so that your input may be considered in the rule amendments.  The CARB and Navy presentations are available on CARB’s website at

Port of Los Angeles

In response to what the City of Los Angeles says is a growing public concern over smoke emissions from ships, the City Attorney has begun to file criminal complaints on Notices of Violation written by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) for smoke emissions.  SCAQMD rules prohibit the emission of air contaminants for periods aggregating more than three minutes in any one hour which are equivalent to or greater than a No. 1 Ringelmann (20 per cent opacity).  The City Attorney’s office has indicated that they expect the number of criminal prosecutions for excessive smoke to increase in the future.

This article was originally published in the February/April 2011 issue of GARD News.

[1] See articles “Every breath you take? – California’s legal and regulatory changes with regard to ship air emissions” in Gard News issue No. 195; “Is it still all up in the air? – New regulations for fuel and marine diesel air emissions in California – Timing and status” in Gard News issue No. 193; “The new California Vessel Air Emission Regulations – Facing legal challenges” in Gard News issue No. 186; “Airing differences – Vessel air emissions in the US” in Gard News issue No. 188; “California diesel engine regulations – An update” in Gard News issue No. 190 and “Update on California Air Emission Regulations” in Gard News issue No. 191.