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Sydney Harbour cruise ship emissions

Cruise ships capable of accommodating more than 100 passengers in Sydney Harbour are required to limit emissions of sulphur oxides when berthing.

Cruise ships in Sydney Harbour must use either low sulphur (maximum 0.1% m/m) fuel or an alternative measure that achieves an equivalent outcome, such as an exhaust gas cleaning system (scrubber). This Direction by AMSA has been in place since December 2016 in accordance with subsection 246(1)(b) of the Navigation Act 2012.

The issued Direction notices permit changeover to low sulphur fuel within one hour of arrival and changeover back to heavy fuel oil up to one hour prior to departure. We expect and require masters and operators comply with Directions otherwise the penalties for not complying are substantial. 

The Direction notices aim to limit sulphur oxides and other particulate matter—contained in cruise ship exhaust emissions—in Sydney Harbour. Visible discharge from a ship’s exhaust stacks is still possible, but will not be related to sulphur or particulate matter discharges. Where ships use approved scrubber units, the water used in the system to remove the bulk of the emission particulates produces steam, which is visible from the exhaust stack—as shown by the following photo. 

The noise, odour, visual amenity, vibration, and planning decisions—such as location of berths and the use of onshore power—are not regulated under these Direction notices or by us. State and Northern Territory Governments retain the responsibility for regulating these aspects of shipping, including the number of ships permitted to berth.

Compliance checks

Our inspectors regularly conduct checks of cruise ships visiting Sydney to ensure compliance with the conditions of the issued Directions. Since December 2016, we have conducted 69 compliance checks on 36 cruise ships with 100% compliance observed. These compliance checks indicate that less than 10% of cruise ships are utilising the option of fitting scrubbers with the majority using low sulphur fuel. Read the full list of compliance checks completed by our surveyors.

Our inspectors verify that cruise ships under this Direction are using low sulphur fuel by checking the bunker fuel delivery reports. Bunker fuel delivery reports are an international requirement under MARPOL Annex VI and outline which fuel has been purchased and, in the case of low sulphur fuel, confirms that the sulphur content is below the 0.1% sulphur limit. Our surveyors then check logbook records to verify the time at which the ship switched over from heavy fuel oil to the low sulphur fuel. The ship’s fuel management system is then interrogated to make sure that the ship is utilising the low sulphur fuel while at berth.

Future changes to shipping emissions

From 1 January 2020, all vessels—regardless of size—operating anywhere in the world will be required to use fuel which contains a maximum of 0.5% m/m sulphur.

Read about the 2020 low sulphur fuel regulation and how Australia is preparing for this change.

Last updated: 

Thursday 6 December 2018