Thorleif Thorleifsson

Global Sulphur regulations, ECA and SECA zones

Global Sulphur Regulations

As of January 1st 2020, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) enforced the Sulphur Emission Regulations under the MARPOL convention. The new Sulphur limit requires that all ships shall reduce their Sulphur emissions from 3,5 % to 0,5 % in all the world's seas.

There are currently four Emission Control Areas (ECAs). These ECAs cover North America, the US Caribbean Sea Areas, the North Sea, and the Baltic Sea. From 1 January 2015, ships have been required to use fuel with a 0.1% Sulphur content limit while operating in these ECAs.

The implementation of the global sulphur limit of 0.50 %, designated under Regulation 14 of MARPOL Annex VI, has not changed the requirements applicable in the four ECAs. Since Regulation 4 of the Annex VI allows the usage of exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS) as an alternative method of compliance with Regulation 14, the 0,10 % Sulphur limit continue to apply.

National and Regional ECA and SECA zone regulations


Map of China's ECA and SECA zone
China: Domestic, coastal and inland ECA and SECA regulations. Photo: ShipIntel (Screenshot).

China introduced their own domestic ECA regulations in September 2015 requiring a maximum of 0,50 % SOx limit on fuel. In November 2018 a new coastal ECA was introduced. The 2018 ECA includes all sea areas and ports within China’s territorial sea including the province of Hainan and two inland ECAs being parts of the Yangtze and the Xi Jiang River. Ships must currently use fuel with a 0.5% sulphur content limit when entering into the ECA.

The three ECAs are the Pearl River Delta, the Yangtze River Delta and Bohai Bay.

Chinese inland ECA regulations requires max 0,10 % Sulphur content. The inland regulations include the navigable waters of the Yangtze River and the main lines (from Shuifu in Yunnan Province to Liuhe Estuary in Jiangsu Province) and the Xijiang River main lines (from Nanning in Guangxi Province to Zhaoqing in Guangdong Province).

South Korea

Republic of Korea (South Korea): From top-left to bottom-right, South Korea's ECAs/SECAs are Pyeongtaek, Yeosu, Busan (east and west), and Ulsan. Photo: ShipIntel (Screenshot).

From September 1st 2020, all vessels berthing or at anchorage in the Korean ECAs must burn fuel with a maximum sulphur content of 0.10 %. Ships must switch to compliant fuel within 1 hour after anchoring or mooring and continue using it until 1 hour before departing.

The Korean ECAs cover Korea’s five major port areas. These port areas are:

  • Incheon, including Kyongin Port
  • Pyeongtaek-Dangjin
  • Yeosu
  • Gwang-yang, including Hadong Port
  • Busan; and
  • Ulsan

From January 1st 2022, changeover to 0,10 % low sulphur fuel is to be completed at entry into the SECA and use of compliant fuel most continue while the vessel remain inside the SECA.

Alternatively, EGCS compliant with MARPOL requirements can be used providing the reduction in Sox emission is at least as effective as using the 0,10 % fuel.

Read more about Designation of SOX Emission Control Area in the Republic of Korea, in Korean Register’s report.


Map showing Australia's eca and seca zone
Australia: Australia's ECA and SECA zone for the Australian waters and ports. Photo: ShipIntel (Screenshot).

Australian ports and waters are outside of IMO MARPOL Annex VI ECAs. From the 1st of January 2020, the sulphur content of fuel used for propulsion or operation onboard a vessel must not exceed 0,50 %. Local regulation enforce a 0,10 % limit on cruise ships in Sydney harbor capable of accommodating more than 100 passengers.

Regulation 4 also applies, and EGCS can be used as an alternative means of compliance if at least as effective in terms of SOx emissions reduction as the fuel sulphur limit.

Read the full guidance for Australia's Emissions Regulations here.

European Union (EU)

A map of the eca and seca areas of Europe/European Union (EU).
EU: The Emission Control Area for the European Union. Photo: ShipIntel (Screenshot).

EU’s Sulphur Directive says all ships berthing inside an EU port have to use marine fuels with a sulphur content not exceeding 0,10 %. If they arrive at a berth with fuel oil onboard with a higher sulphur content the vessel needs to start a fuel changeover operation as soon as possible after arrival at a berth and as late as possible before departure.

The sulphur limit does not apply if:

  • Ships are due to be at berth for less than two hours, according to published timetables; or
  • Ships switch off all engines and use shore-side electricity while at berth in ports.

There are 27 EU members. The member states are highlighted in the photo below.

An illustrative map that shows the 27 member states of the EU
European Union: The 27 member states of the EU. Photo: Screenshot from the European Union.


Map of Iceland's Emission Control Area (ECA).
Iceland: The Emission Control Area for Icelandic waters and ports. Photo: ShipIntel (Screenshot).

From the 1st of January 2020, the sulphur content was reduced to 0,10 %  in Icelandic territorial waters – along with fjords and bays . Vessels will be banned from using heavy fuel within Icelandic territorial waters unless employing authorised methods to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions.


Norway's emission control area (eca and seca zone).
Norway: The Norwegian ECA/SECA. Photo: ShipIntel (Screenshot).

From the 1st of March 2019, the Norwegian World Heritage Fjord areas, in Western Norway were included in the ECA 0,10 % sulphur limit. The World Heritage Fjords included are:

  • The Nærøyfjord
  • The Aurlandsfjord
  • The Geirangerfjord
  • The Sunnylvsfjord, and
  • The Tafjord

While complying EGCS are permitted, Norway has specific rules for two areas designated as World Heritage Fjords where additional controls apply: Ships must use either:

  • fuel with a sulphur content not exceeding 0 10 % by weight; or
  • an approved closed loop exhaust gas cleaning system; or
  • an approved hybrid exhaust gas cleaning system in closed loop mode.

From the 1st of January 2020 Norway adopts to the EU’s Sulphur Directive (0,10 % Sulphur content). All ships berthing inside a Norwegian port must use marine fuels with a sulphur content not exceeding 0,10%.

The Norwegian environmental instruction also states that as a minimum the vessels need to document they comply with operational and technical measures for reducing particle matter emissions and visible smoke, and speed as a measure for reducing emissions and discharges.

Ireland (Irish Sea)

Map showing the eca and seca zone for Ireland and the Irish Sea.
Ireland: Emission Control Area (ECA and SECA zone) for the Irish Sea, including all adjacent ports. Photo: ShipIntel (Screenshot).

January 1st, 2020, the limit was reduced to 0,50%. The Irish Seas exemption from the EU Sulphur Directive came to an end in January 2020 and from the 1st of January 2020 the Irish Sea was included in the EU Directive. The limit for vessels trading in this area was reduced to a Sulphur content to 0,10 %.


Map showing the emission control area for Turkey (ECA and SECA zone)
Turkey: Emission control area for Turkey (ECA and SECA zone).

Turkey has its own Sulphur emission regulations, thus aligned with the regulations in EU ports (sulphur content not exceeding 0,10 %) for all ships berthing in Turkish ports or operation in Turkish inland waterways. The regulations do not apply for vessel transits in Bosporus and Dardanelles and the Marmara Sea unless these vessels in transit have anchored in the area for more than 2 hours.  

On April 6th 2021, Turkey’s Ministry for Environment and Urbanization General Directorate for Environmental Management issued a notice prohibiting discharges from EGCS.

The notice, available in Turkish and English, can be read in full here.

Map of all ECA and SECA zones

In ShipIntel and ShipAtlas, you can access and view all ECA and SECA zones on the map, with live tracking of vessels, port activities and more.

Along with the Sulphur Emission Zones and Emission Control Areas map layer, as displayed below, you can also set map layers such as Load Line Zones, International Navigating Limits, Anti Shipping Activity (Piracy Maps), Maritime Judicial Zones (EEZ) to name a few.

Global map showing all Sulphur Emission Zones and Emission Control Areas (ECA and SECA) worldwide.
ShipIntel map: ShipIntel's Sulphur Emission Zones map layer lets you view and access info on all zones globally. Photo: ShipIntel (Screenshot).

To set you own map layers, go to either:

  • ShipIntel (for any company dealing with maritime business); or
  • ShipAtlas (for individuals and consumers interested in following ships)
  • Click on "Styles and layers" on the top right-hand corner.
  • Select the map layer of your choosing from the list.
  • After selecting the layer, click on the X or anywhere on the map to activate it.

Closing remarks - A "new" industry is about to grow

There seems to be a "new" industry growing up due to these new environmental requirements. With regulations enforced on the maritime industry, discussions on how to comply revolve around:

  • Using low-sulphur distillates (low-sulphur version of marine gas oil, MGO etc)
  • Using other new low-sulphur variants, such as low-sulphur heavy fuel oil (HFO) or hybrid blends
  • Continue using conventional, high-sulphur (3.5%-S) HFO with exhaust gas cleaning technology (scrubbers)
  • Using LNG as a fuel source
  • Using another type of alternative fuel, such as methanol or hydrogen (fuel cells)
  • Using renewable power generation as a supplementary method (solar, wind)

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