P&O Master On Trial in France Over Cruise Ship Sulphur Limit Violation

From gcaptain: P&O Master On Trial in France Over Cruise Ship Sulphur Limit Violation

October 10, 2018 by Alexandra Bailey

The U.S. Master of P&O operated cruise ship “Azura” is currently facing unprecedented charges brought against him by French prosecutors for the violation of European pollution limits. Master Evans Hoyt potentially faces a one-year prison sentence and/or a fine of up to EUR200,000.

Fuel was 0.18% over the 1.5% sulfur limit.

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That’s why they call it a limit. Just like manning, the idea is that it’s supposed to be worst-case, not normal operation to run at the limit.

My '89 Vanagon typically tests at around ten or twenty percent of the allowed emissions…

I guess you are also the one driving that Vanagon at 20 mph below the speed limit in the far left lane?


:rofl: Hardly. I don’t drive that fast any more, but I used to drive the '84 Westy (full pop-top camper) at 85 mph actual all over New England. Once in a while it would sneak up to 90 when I wasn’t looking. I never tried for the rated 96 mph top speed.

Yes, you have to keep your foot down for a while, and yes, the motor needed rebuilding earlier than otherwise. But people who think the water-cooled third-generation Transporter can’t travel fast either have one of the 1.6l normally aspirated diesel ones from '82-3 or simply are so used to big engines that if it doesn’t take off like a rocket they think it can’t go fast.

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Then surely you can sympathize with a captain on trial for fuel that is 0.18% over the limit.

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Oh, I sympathize. But I fear it’s inevitable that the first person/outfit nailed for something like this (and it’s not at all clear to me that it should be the master) will be made an example of, or attempted to. Volkswagen AG’s notorious diesel-emissions scam probably did not help.

Since Marseille is not in a ECA (yet) one would think the worldwide limit of 3.5% would apply. Except for the fact a separate EU sulfur directive exists which somewhat confusingly requires 1.5% limit as per:

‧4. Member States shall take all necessary measures to ensure that marine fuels are not used in their territorial seas, exclusive economic zones and pollution control zones falling outside SOx Emission Control Areas by passenger ships operating on regular services to or from any Union port if the sulphur content of those fuels exceeds 1,50 % by mass until 1 January 2020.

That same directive states:

‧Article 4b

Maximum sulphur content of marine fuels used by ships at berth in Union ports

  1. Member States shall take all necessary measures to ensure that ships at berth in Union ports do not use marine fuels with a sulphur content exceeding 0,10 % by mass, allowing sufficient time for the crew to complete any necessary fuel-changeover operation as soon as possible after arrival at berth and as late as possible before departure.

Member States shall require the time of any fuel-changeover operation to be recorded in ships’ logbooks.

  1. Paragraph 1 shall not apply:

(a) whenever, according to published timetables, ships are due to be at berth for less than two hours;

(b) to ships which switch off all engines and use shore-side electricity while at berth in ports.

  1. Member States shall ensure that marine gas oils are not placed on the market in their territory if the sulphur content of those marine gas oils exceeds 0,10 % by mass.

One can envision that the EU was trying to tweak down the 3.5 limit for areas not in the ECA but where ships are on a regular run and therefore putting more SOx compounds in the air.

Unfortunately a French prosecutor seems to be accentuating the “passenger ship” wording rather than the “regular service” words.

Of course if this ship was calling there every week it could come down to what “regular” means. But an American in a French court?

Since they did not specify any thing about the 0.1% in port limit one would assume they changed over to a source and DG’s burning that dockside.

Other points?

Previous history of this ship in this port? When was the last time in Marseille? What was sulfur content then? Any enforcement action or warnings then?

Are we talking a residual fuel here or gas oil?

What did the shipowner order? Since a bunker supplier can write one thing on the proposed bunker spec prior to placing the stem and something else on the BDN and the shipowners own after the fact testing can provide yet another number for sulfur content - the first thing to check is what is on the BDN. Had enough time passed to have the owners sample reach the lab, be tested and have results onboard?

If they ordered proper fuel but supplier delivered something above the limit the owner is supposed to report that fact up through flag state which should mitigate any enforcement actions against the ship and put the focus on the supplier especially since that was also in the EU.

Since the defense is already talking about the applicability of the 3.5 limit Stating they felt the 1.5 did not apply I wonder what their purchase spec said for sulfur.


Or a Frenchman in an American court, which is worse??

Foreign ship masters make easy legal targets. Imagine if this was a factory ashore. Would they put the local manager on trial? Look at all the white collar crime in the U.S that goes unpunished.

A fine against the company seems more appropriate than putting the master on trial. Unless the master received a kick-back or similar. Depends on the facts of the case.


Agree completely.

My only involvement regarding fuel in the past has been making sure that we switched to diesel before we crossed into an area where this applied.
If we are adding to the masters responsibilities the requirement to closely scrutinise bunker receipts for quality then thank heavens I’m retired.

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It’s been an official log entry (at least in the US) for quite some time. Details of the bunkering, barge name, amount taken, viscosity, density, and sulfur content. The Master also signs his name on every page of the Oil Record Book so there is no way you can claim ignorance.

When the lab analysis of the fuel is sent to my ship it is sent to the captain. I forward it to the chief and if anything seems off, we discuss the options (to burn or not to burn). Fuel is so important and expensive these days, I think I’d be crazy to not be at a minimum “informed” of the situation.

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I was thinking the same thing but don’t know what happened here.

I believe the article says the fuel was determined to be out of spec based on an actual test sample drawn from the tank the 900 mt had been loaded.

Don’t know if the paperwork showed OK? Was fuel not at spec or did it get contaminated with some high sulfur residual bunkers? Maybe on the bunker barge or on the ship? Or both?

If the fuel is close to 1.5 it wouldn’t take much at 4.5 % to push it over by 0.18%

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In some cases the bunker ticket is a fairy tale. Over the past few years I have seen a couple of instances where problems with emissions control systems were traced back to high sulfur (600 ppm +) distillate in the tanks when all the bunker tickets claimed delivery of ULSD.

Unless the ship carries an X-ray fluorescence analyzer to test for sulfur content before and during bunkering, the master and chief become secondary victims of a crime committed by the supplier.

It seems to me that if all the bunker tickets show legal sulfur content then the ship is not at fault and the inquiries need to go back to the supply chain.


I have only bunkered MDO in recent years. In the days when I bunkered in US ports for a trans Pacific voyage or inAsia the Fuel was ordered by the bunkering department of the 60 ship company I was employed by. We specified the quantity and all the rest was specified by them. In Asia a surveyor was also employed to monitor the bunkering operation
In accordance with normal practice the new fuel was segregated until the test results and their recommendations were received. Both the bunkering department and the technical department superintendent responsible for the particular ship were in receipt of the report.
The Chief Engineer signed the bunker receipt, and yes, I signed the Oil Record Book but after the event.
What on earth are they paying all these other guys for if I’m alone in being in the gun? Yeah I know I’m responsible but the difference between my paycheque and the Chief’s doesn’t cut it.
Oh, and if the results of the samples were so far out of spec that we could not use it, we would have had to return to the bunkering port to be swamped by suits and legal eagles . There was only enough canvas for a couple of winch covers.

well, I always check the bunker receipt after we receive it. if the sulfur content is not correct call the office and don’t use the fuel until tested again.

Reading the article in MarEx it seems like the dispute centers around the wording of the law. Ships in regular passenger service must use 1.5%. This was a cruise ship.

Evidently the other EU countries do not consider cruise ships to be in regular passenger service.

also possible some astute lawyer just found a way to make money? Don’t even get me started on what they did to those volks wagon executives … ‘solitary confinement’? and those cars were getting better mileage BEFORE the mandated modifications.

Yeah I guess I’ll be breaking out the XRF during bunkers from now on.

Better mileage – but they were emitting NOx like full-size 18-wheelers – up to forty times the US-allowed level for vehicles of ?8,000? lb and under.