Mediterranean coastal states are jointly applying to the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) for the sea and region to be designated a sulphur oxide (SOx) emission control area (ECA).

The applicants want the ECA, which will apply a 0.1% limit on the sulphur content of fuel compared with a 0.5% global limit, to enter into force from 1 January 2025. The controls will also help reduce particulate matter emissions.

In a comprehensive 100-page document, the health benefits of limiting sulphur emissions are clearly outlined by applicants to the MEPC.

It describes how an ECA designation could reduce mortality in the region and respiratory diseases in children, such as asthma.

The analysis estimates that in the Mediterranean region, 507m people live in areas with air pollution at levels exceeding respective national ambient air quality standards, and at levels which are unhealthy according to the World Health Organization standards.

The application has been presented by European Union member states along with North African countries Algeria, Libya and Egypt and Syria, Lebanon and Israel in the Middle East.

So far North America, the Caribbean, North Sea and Baltic Region have been designated ECAs by the IMO with significant health gains in the regions.

“The adoption of the proposed Med SOx ECA will result in significant reductions in ambient levels of air pollution in the Mediterranean Sea, as a whole, and in the Mediterranean coastal states, which will achieve substantial benefits to human health and the environment,” the applicants said in their proposal.

Protecting health

Environmental non-governmental organizations have welcomed the development.

Sonke Diesener, shipping expert at Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union, said: “Environmental groups have long called for the more widespread designation of ECAs to protect human health and the environment from the significant threats posed by air pollution from shipping.

“This comprehensive proposal confirms the many evidence-based arguments for doing so.”

The expected adoption of the region as an ECA is likely to trigger further applications. A number of countries in the Far East are understood to be considering applying to the IMO for an ECA designation. These include China, Hong Kong and Japan.