Source: IMO and Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ), Belgium; (2020). Emission Control Areas (ECAs) designated under regulation 13 of MARPOL Annex VI (NOx emission control).
The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) established a protocol titled “Prevention of air pollution from ships” that became effective in 2005. Under this protocol, member nations of the International Maritime Organization agree to abide to fuel emission standards that are more stringent (about three times) within selected emission control areas (ECA). Emissions are measured by the sulfur content of bunker fuel as a percentage of its mass (% m/m). While SOx standards were 4.5% m/m outside ECAs and 1.5% m/m inside ECAs in the early 2010s, by 2020, they have reached 0.5% and 0.1%, respectively.
ECA impact maritime shipping over two dimensions related to port access and shipping lanes. About 17% of the global port container throughput is within an ECA. Even if this share is relatively small, the ports within ECAs are servicing the wealthiest markets of Europe and North America (e.g. Hamburg – Le Havre range and Eastern Seaboard). Therefore, shipping lines calling these ports must use lower sulfur bunker fuel, impacting their service network with other ports facing lower emission standards.
The second dimension is more limited since the existing ECAs are not extensive enough to impact shipping lanes. Traffic going through the English Channel or the North Sea is already bound to ports of the Hamburg – Le Havre range and thus subject to ECA regulations. Great circle distance traffic passing by the American West Coast ECA, such as Asia – South America lanes, can avoid it through a deviation. The impact of ECAs on shipping lanes could be more significant if the Mediterranean would become an ECA, as a large volume of shipping transit through the region.