Production boat builders everywhere let out a sigh of relief when the Commandant of the US Coast Guard announced his directive to “defer enforcement” of the IMO’s MARPOL Annex VI regulation mandating reduction in NOx marine engine emissions.
The policy letter, signed by Captain M. Edwards, directs the USCG to not deny registration to, nor police the coastal waters of North America for, new recreational vessels of more than 24m waterline length but under 500 GT powered with engines that fail to meet MARPOL Tier III guidelines until December 31, 2023, or “until suitable engines are available.”
And therein lies the crux of the problem. Builders of mini-megayachts and uber sportfishermen say that equipment to take NOx pollution out of engine exhaust simply does not exist for yachts of modest size. Currently, the Tier III solution is a large, post combustion chamber called a Selective Catalytic Converter (SCR) where exhaust is injected with urea to convert its NOx component into ammonia and nitrogen.
Although internationally adopted via the UN agency IMO (International Maritime Organization) in 2015, builders of yachts under 500 GT had been given until 1 January 2021 to figure out how to comply with the NOx reduction regulation, which is referred to as Tier III – the third step in reducing pollution from engine exhaust. Tier III targets the NOx gasses that contribute to smog and acid rain, deplete the planet’s ozone layer and aggravate asthma in humans.
The first two superyachts to comply with the Tier III mandate appeared in 2018 with Tankoa’s 72 metre Solo and Amels' 57.7m Volpini 2. These yachts, both above 500 GT, featured SCRs about the size of a household refrigerator mounted above the engines. Adding such SCRs to engine rooms of yachts half that size, as well as finding room for a tank of urea, would require production boat builders to dramatically retool their yachts in this size range, and even that might result in impractically little space left for owners, guests and crew.
Although IMO is a global agency of the United Nations, its 174 member states had agreed to phase in the Tier III emission control regulation in two areas called Environmental Control Areas or ECAs. The contiguous North Sea Area and Baltic Sea Area being one and the other being the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America above Mexico out 200 miles and the US Caribbean and Hawaiian Islands. Enforcement of the North American ECA rules falls to the US Coast Guard by agreement with Canada. Enforcement of the European ECA falls to the various port state controls. All member Flag States are required to confirm compliance for certification.
Perhaps the most vocal boat builder seeking to secure an extension to Tier III was Pat Healey, CEO and president of Viking Yachts in New Gretna, New Jersey, who warned that his company would simply have to stop building its two largest products, 92-foot sportfishermen and 93-foot motor yachts, until engine manufacturers came up with a suitable solution.
“The Coast Guard’s position gives us the flexibility to build our 92 Convertible and 93 Motor Yacht for the next three years, however we are also looking to the future as we follow our mantra to build a better boat every day. Viking played a major role in advancing the development of EPA Tier III engines for our yachts. We will continue to support and work with engine manufacturers and environmental agencies to pursue the fastest plausible path to further advance and implement technology that provides safe, reliable and fuel-efficient marine propulsion for our customers,” he said.
Nicole Vasilaros, senior vice president for Government and Legal Affairs of the US-based National Marine Manufacturers Association, said that the US representative to IMO, with support from her organization and ICOMIA, had presented documents and discussion calling an extension to IMO members in 2020, but the session was held virtually and truncated from its usual multi-day affair due to Covid-19. While several member countries agreed with the US request for a delay in implementation, others did not, so members decided to move the discussion to the 2021 session, now set for mid June.
The action by the US Coast Guard not to penalize yachts with keels laid and operating after 1 January 2021 was “kind of a last ditch effort to provide relief to builders who find it impossible to comply,” said Vasilaros.
Chris Swanhart, director of recreational boats for of DLBA Naval Architects in Chesapeake, Virginia, said, “It is clear that we are not talking about a global policy change or exemption but a decision on the part of the enforcement agency in one ECA to temporarily ignore the regulation. There will be new equipment coming that will make [NOx reduction] possible.”
“Yes, we are relieved as far as the American market goes,” said Director Roger Sowerbutts of Horizon Yachts USA, but at the yard (in Taiwan), we have been working on developing design solutions and with engine manufacturers Caterpillar, MAN and MTU and we feel they are getting close to solutions. One of these may be diesel electric propulsion, which utilizes several smaller engines linked to electric motors. This is a perfect application of hybrid power in yachts below 130 feet.”
Sowerbutts says Horizon made modifications to the hull tooling and rudder location of its FD 92 and FD 85 motor yachts to measure under the 24m mark according to RINA certification, but its 100 foot boats and above will have to comply when equipment becomes available.
“The situation is amazingly confusing. The US Coast Guard and CE do not even measure the same way, so what does IMO really mean by 24 metres of length? We want to comply. We want to do our part, but they need to understand that today the equipment does simply not exist.”