Shipping company to pay DKK 375,000 for using fuel containing too much sulphur

Published 18-05-2017

The Danish EPA has come down hard on sulphur polluters at sea. The first fines have now been imposed on two shipping companies who have been using illegal fuel causing illegal air pollution.

A foreign shipping company has been fined DKK 375,000 for sailing with fuel containing too much sulphur. The fine was issued by the police in northern Denmark following a report from the Danish EPA. The report arose from sulphur monitoring by the Danish EPA, and this is one of the first fines, and so far the largest fine in Denmark for this type of case.

“By far the majority of shipping companies comply with the regulations for Danish waters, and therefore it’s very important we catch those that don’t. They must not be able to pollute the air with impunity, and therefore we’re extremely pleased that our police reports are now leading to fines,” said Sara Røpke, Head of Division at the Danish EPA.

In addition to the fine of DKK 375,000, a fine of DKK 30,000 has been issued to another foreign shipping company for a less serious violation of the sulphur regulations.

“Our recommendation to the police regarding the size of the fines focussed on ensuring that the fines were proportional with the nature of the violation, that they were commensurate with similar penalties in the environment field, and that they were comparable with fines issued in other countries for the same type of violation,” said Ms Røpke, and she added: “The size of fines isn’t cast in stone. In our opinion the fines should be higher for more serious or repeated violations”.

17 ships reported

Denmark regularly monitors the sulphur content of ship fuel by taking oil samples from ships in Danish ports. Furthermore, sulphur emissions by shipping are monitored from the air using a ‘sniffer’ installed underneath the Great Belt Bridge. The ‘sniffer’ can ‘smell’ if too much sulphur is being emitted by a ship, and the Danish EPA will then receive an alarm and can ask the Danish Maritime Authority to take an oil sample when the ship reaches port. If the ship is on its way to a foreign port, the Danish EPA will advise the relevant authorities abroad.

However, with regard to the DKK 375,000 fine, the Danish EPA received an anonymous tip-off.

In order to strengthen supervision of the sulphur regulations even more, in the last six months of 2017 the Danish EPA will commence mobile monitoring of ships’ sulphur emissions in Danish waters. The task is currently out to EU tender.

“Sulphur is harmful to the environment and to human health, and since the new regulations on the sulphur content in fuel entered into force on 1 January 2015, I’m happy to say that the sulphur content in the air over Denmark has more than halved. We must make sure this continues through effective control and by coming down hard on shipping companies which don’t comply with the rules,” said Ms Røpke.

The Danish EPA has reported 14 cases to the police since the stricter limit value for sulphur content in marine fuels entered into force in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea on 1 January 2015. Three further violations have just been reported to the police, bringing the total up to 17.

The Danish EPA has also just launched a project to enhance control of the sulphur content in the fuel delivered to ships in Denmark.


  • Ships sailing with illegal fuel can either change to fuel containing less sulphur or fit a ‘scrubber’ that cleans the exhaust smoke from the ship. Both solutions mean the ship incurs additional costs.
  • The Danish Maritime Authority checks ships for sulphur in Danish ports on behalf of the Danish EPA. The Authority inspects around 400 ships a year. All ships must have documentation that they comply with the sulphur regulations. Oil samples for the Danish EPA were taken from 150 of the ships inspected. Since June 2015, the Danish EPA has been monitoring sulphur emissions by shipping using a ‘sniffer’ installed underneath the Great Belt Bridge. The sniffer can ‘smell’ whether ships are emitting too much sulphur. From June 2015 to the end of 2016, light aircraft fitted with sniffers have also been monitoring Danish waters. The Danish EPA will be launching a new round of mobile monitoring in the second half of 2017. The task is currently out to EU tender.
  • If the sniffer reports that a ship on its way to a Danish port looks as if it is not complying with the sulphur regulations, the Danish Maritime Authority is notified, who can then go on board and take an oil sample.
  • The sniffer also reports ships that are not to call at a Danish port, but which are in transit through Danish waters. In these cases, the Danish EPA will notify the authorities in the relevant country so that they can inspect the ship when it arrives.
  • Since 1 January 2015, ships sailing in the Baltic Sea, the North Sea or in waters around North America have had to use fuel containing a maximum of 0.10% sulphur. This is a reduction requirement of 90% compared with the previous regulations.
  • Air monitoring stations in Denmark show that the sulphur content in the air has more than halved since the new and stricter regulations entered into force. The effects had already been measured during 2015 and they were maintained in 2016.
  • In October 2016, countries in the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted a 2008 resolution that seas in the rest of the world should also be covered by the stricter sulphur requirements. This means that from 2020 marine fuels may not contain more than 0.50% sulphur. The stricter limit value of 0.10% will continue to apply for the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and waters around North America.
  • Sulphur dioxide is harmful for humans and can cause respiratory diseases and premature death. About 20% of all health impacts in Denmark caused by air pollution come from ships. The environment also suffers, as high concentrations of sulphur can acidify land areas and water bodies with resulting fish mortality, as was seen in Norwegian and Swedish lakes in the 1970s.

Further information:

Sara Røpke, Head of Division, Danish EPA, tel.: +45 41 78 20 39 - Obfuscated Email