The North American Emissions Control Area (“ECA”) is now in force in Canada. The Regulations Amending the Vessel Pollution and Dangerous Chemicals Regulations,1 promulgated under the Canada Shipping Act, 20012 were adopted on April 18, 20133 and were published on May 8, 2013.4

Background in Brief

ECA’s are one mechanism applied to pursue the goals of a 1997 amendment to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973/1978 (“MARPOL”), to which Canada is party. That amendment added Annex VI to MARPOL, governing air pollution from vessels. Annex VI aims to restrict the airborne emissions from ships of environment-polluting substances, such as sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter. Annex VI entered into force on May 19, 2005, but a revision with tighter emission controls was adopted in October 20085  and took effect as of July 1, 2010.

Establishing the North American ECA

In 2009, Canada, the U.S.A. and France (for the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon) proposed to the IMO the establishment of the North American ECA, comprising waters within 200 nautical miles of the east and west coasts of Canada and the U.S., the Gulf of Mexico and the eight Hawaiian Islands. The waters concerned are shown on this sketch:

The United States has applied ECA standards since July 2011 in both its ECA waters and its internal waters. Canada delayed implementing  the ECA, however, applying interim measures in the meantime. That delay has now come to an end with the coming into force of the Regulations.

Major Features of the Amending Regulations

Some of highlights of the Regulations Amending the Vessel Pollution and Dangerous Chemicals Regulations include the following provisions, which can be summarized thus:

  • The maximum sulphur content of ship fuel for Canadian and foreign vessels of 400 gross tons or more is 3.5% from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2019, and then becomes 0.5% as of January 1, 2020; but for vessels operating in the ECA, the sulphur limit is 1.0 % until January 1, 2015, when it will drop to a maximum of 0.1%.
  • Alternatively, vessels may adopt fitting technology or alternative fuels or procedures resulting in equivalent reductions in emissions.
  • Vessels operating in the ECA after January 1, 2016 must adhere to the IMO’s “Tier III Standards” for nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, which represent an 80% reduction from current emission standards.6
  • Permissible sulphur emissions for Canadian vessels operating on the Great Lakes or on the St. Lawrence will start at a maximum of 1.3% in 2013 and decline progressively on January 1 of each following year, until they reach 0.1% on January 1, 2020.
  • Alternatively, Canadian vessel owners operating on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence may opt for a fleet averaging system, whereby the annual fuel limits of their ships may be exceeded by a maximum cumulative amount of 0.4% before 2017, declining until 2020.
  • Other options include using lower-sulphur fuel or exhaust gas cleaning systems (“scrubbers”) and/or materials and procedures resulting in equivalent emissions to using lower-sulphur fuel.
  • Vessels operating on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence waters will have to report to Transport Canada, showing how the emission targets are being met.
  • New vessels (built under contracts placed after June 30, 2013) of 400 gross tons or over must meet IMO’s “Energy Efficient Design Index”7 and carry an International Energy Efficiency (IEE) Certificate. This will apply first to cargo, container, tanker and combination carriers.
  • Vessels of 400 gross tons or over must have a Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) on board8 detailing how the vessel will increase its energy efficiency.
  • Oil tankers of 150 gross tons or more must keep on board a ship-to-ship (STS) Operations Plan, if they are engaged with another oil tanker in a transfer operation involving oil or an oily mixture in bulk at anchorage. Masters must give 48 hours’ advance notice to Canadian authorities, before STS operation in Canadian waters. A similar notice must be given to local authorities, where the Canadian vessel is engaged in an STS operation in the territorial sea or EEZ of any other MARPOL State.
  • Discharges of “greywater” in Canadian waters other than Arctic waters must not result in the deposit of solids or cause any sheen on the water.
  • New passenger vessels carrying more than 500 passengers must ensure that any greywater released from the vessel has been passed through a certified marine sanitation device and is done at least three nautical miles from shore.

The above information is only a summary of a very detailed legal text. Consequently, for further information on this important subject, or if you have specific questions, kindly contact BLG’s Maritime Law Focus Group.

1 SOR/2013-68.

2 S.C. 2001, c. 26, subsects. 35(1) and 120(1) and (2), sect. 190 and paragraphs 207(2)(a) and 244(a).

3 P.C. 2013-374.

4 Canada Gazette, Part II, Vol. 147, No. 10, May 8, 2013, p. 919.

5 The amendment was drafted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) through its Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC). See Resolution MEPC.176(58), adopted October 10, 2008.

6 The standards are established by the IMO’s NOx Technical Code 2008, which came into force July 1, 2010.

7 The Energy Efficient Design Index for new vessels was adopted under MARPOL Annex VI, by MEPC Resolution.203(62) on July 15, 2011, which came into force January 1, 2013.

8 The Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan is designed to aid existing vessels to improve their energy efficiency. It was adopted under MARPOL Annex VI, by MEPC Resolution.203(62) on July 15, 2011 and its requirements came into force January 1, 2013.


Jean-Marie Fontaine


Maritime Law