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As of the 1st January 2020, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) rules came into force, decreasing the legal sulphur limit of boat fuel from 3.5% to 0.5%, in an attempt to reduce air pollution.

However, new figures submitted to the IMO by Finland and Germany show that the tweaked fuels may cause serious harm to the environment. Testing of these very-low sulphur fuel oils (VLSFO) found that they contain more hydrocarbons known as aromatics, which cause more black carbon emissions (BC), which are second only to carbon dioxide in terms of climate-damaging potential.  

According to the study, the fuels tested contained 70-95% more aromatic compounds, which resulted in 10% - 85% more BC compared to the widely used standard heavy fuel oil (HFO). The study suggests that aromatic content should be factored into how fuels are classified and that the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) should run a review to “enable a better qualification of marine fuels with respect to their environmental performance”.

A group of NGOs including WWF and Pacific Environment communicated with the IMO to say that the findings are “an alarming development” and called on the UN body to change the regulations to prohibit fuels that will increase BC emissions.