All ships sailing through the Mediterranean will be obliged to switch to cleaner fuels from May 1, 2025.  

The change is designed to improve air quality for the 150 million people living in the region and combat climate change.   

Air pollution caused by shipping can represent up to 40 per cent of all Mediterranean coastal cities’ total air pollution. 

On Friday, the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) formally designated the Mediterranean Sea a Sulphur Emission Control Area (SECA), a move requiring ships sailing in the region to switch to lower sulphur content fuels.  

Covering more than 1.5 million square kilometres, the Mediterranean Sea is one of the busiest water bodies in the world, with Malta intersecting the most used routes.  

The IMO is a United Nations agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping and for preventing sea and air pollution by ships. It has 175 Member States, including Malta. 

Mediterranean Sea traffic density using data collected by the IMO.Mediterranean Sea traffic density using data collected by the IMO.

Birdlife pushes for nitrogen controls

The move has been welcomed by BirdLife Malta, who have campaigned for the measure since 2016 alongside partner organisations in Germany, Italy, Spain and France. 

While applauding the move, the NGO highlighted the need to also establish the Mediterranean as an Emission Control Area (ECA) for Nitrogen (NECA), a key contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.  

“Such a combined ECA like the one operating in the North and the Baltic Sea would further improve air quality, thus saving hundreds of lives in the Mediterranean annually, increasing sustainability of the shipping sector and boosting the necessary shift towards climate-friendly fuels,” the NGO said.  

The organisation also called for the completion of the shore-to-ship electricity supply at Valletta’s Grand Harbour, and to consider switching ferry systems to electric-powered engines.  

EU seeks maritime carbon cuts 

Separate to the IMO initiative, the European Union is also working to force the maritime sector to slash its greenhouse gas emissions. 

MEPs agreed on a set of measures last October, but also agreed to amendments that would exempt ferry services to small islands like Gozo from the rules.  

Those amendments were tabled by Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar, who has also expressed concern that carbon-cutting rules for ships may harm European competitiveness and damage Maltese operators, with transiting ships opting to steer clear of EU ports to avoid the more stringent emissions rules. 

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