June 19, 2013 11:49 pm

Environment: Russia delays tougher marine emissions standards

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Stringent new emissions standards for yachts have been delayed after a surprise intervention by the Russian delegation at a meeting of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) – the highest authority on marine pollution by shipping.

At last month’s meeting the introduction of the toughest restrictions yet was postponed for five years to 2021. The decision followed Russian pressure that took the US delegation, who backed the original plan for introduction in January 2016, by surprise.

The new standards known as IMO Tier III mean that all ships, including superyachts, will have to reduce their emissions drastically, requiring the installation of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems. Yacht builders were concerned that the systems – which are relatively large and complex – would not fit into the engine rooms of yachts below the 500 gross ton threshold. Shipyards and designers were studying redesigns, in some cases eliminating a guest cabin to house the required exhaust after-treatment system.

In a segment heavily reliant on charter, worries about the potential loss of 20 per cent of a vessel’s guest capacity, plus the increased costs of installation and maintenance of new systems prompted industry representations.

The primary lobbying body, the International Council of Marine Industry Associations (Icomia), conducted an investigation and presented its argument to the IMO in May. Citing significant economic impact on a sector of the yachting industry, Icomia asked for a three-year delay to allow innovations in SCR technology to reduce the size of the systems.

According to data from the industry resource SuperyachtIntelligence.com, the yards most likely to be affected by the Tier III limits are Azimut, Pershing (Ferretti), Sanlorenzo, Overmarine, Leopard and Sunseeker. It was not only the boatyards that faced pressure from the IMO regulations – most smaller high-speed yachts are powered by the M94 or M93 power plant from the German engine manufacturer MTU.

But at the meeting of the IMO’s marine environmental protection committee in London in May, Icomia’s argument – which had been supported by delegations from the Marshall Islands and the Cook Islands – was overshadowed by the Russian proposal. Russia’s move successfully got the IMO to declare the five-year delay in the onset of the emissions limits for all types of vessel, worldwide.

As a result, yacht builders and engine manufacturers are now likely to spend this time researching and designing both yachts and engines that are Tier III compliant.

The US delegation to the IMO is strongly in favour of the Tier III emission limits, and, by their own admission, did not foresee the Russian move.

Jeffrey G. Lantz, director of commercial regulations and standards with the US Coast Guard and head of the US delegation to the IMO, says: “The US argued to retain the worldwide 2016 timeline. It was only after the decision ... to agree with Russia’s worldwide 2021 proposal that the US proposed keeping the 2016 date for the North America and Caribbean Sea Emission Control Areas (ECAs), but retaining the Russia 2021 timeline for yachts under 500 gross tons, as proposed by the Marshall Islands and Cook Islands.

“The primary reason for the US opposition to a delay ... for the North America ECAs is to improve the air quality from the impact of today’s marine vessels for the health and welfare of US and Canadian citizens,” Mr Lantz adds.

“US engine manufacturers have made significant investments and are prepared to meet the Tier III standards in 2016. Unfortunately, this proposed delay removes certainty and regulatory predictability, which is important for their business planning.”

The Russian proposal is expected to be adopted at the next IMO’s environmental protection committee meeting in spring 2014, and is not expected to be challenged or overturned.

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