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 berthing in Sydney Harbour will be issued with a Direction to use either low sulphur (maximum 0.10% m/m) fuel or an alternative measure that achieves an equivalent outcome.

These Directions have been issued by AMSA since December 2016 in accordance with subsection 246(1)(b) of the Navigation Act 2012.

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

The Directions aim to reduce exhaust emissions of sulphur oxides and other particulate matter from cruise ships berthed in Sydney Harbour. Visible discharge from a ship’s exhaust stack/s is still possible even when low sulphur fuel or an exhaust gas cleaning system, or scrubber, is being used. In particular, the water used in scrubber systems to remove the bulk of the sulphur and particulate matter produces steam, which is visible from the exhaust stack—as shown by the following photo. 

Steam emitted from cruise ship because of exhaust gas scrubbing

The generation of noise, odour and vibration from cruise ships is not regulated under these Directions or by AMSA. Neither are impacts to visual amenity or planning decisions—such as the location of berths and the use of onshore power. State and Northern Territory Governments retain the responsibility for regulating these aspects of shipping, including the number of ships permitted to berth as well as associated berthing times and duration.

Compliance checks

Our surveyors regularly conduct checks of cruise ships visiting Sydney Harbour to ensure compliance with the conditions of the issued Directions. Compliance checks to date indicate that the majority of cruise ships are using low sulphur fuel with less than 10% using scrubbers. Read the full list of compliance checks completed by our surveyors

Our surveyors verify that cruise ships are using low sulphur fuel by inspecting 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, confirm that the sulphur content meets the 0.10% sulphur limit. Our surveyors then check logbook records to verify the time at which the ship switched over from heavy fuel oil to low sulphur fuel.

Where exhaust gas cleaning systems are used instead, the system records are inspected. The ship’s fuel management system is also investigated to make sure that the ship is utilising the low sulphur fuel while at berth.

Last updated: 6 March 2024