The European Parliament approves legislation agreed with member states, which requires new general limits to be in place by 2020.
The new rules will bring European legislation in line with limits agreed by the International Maritime Organisation. The general sulphur limit for fuels in European seas will fall from 3.5% to 0.5% by 2020, after MEPs insisted on deleting provisions that would have allowed the deadline to be postponed by five years.
"Highly polluting shipping fuels have a serious impact on the environment but this is also the most important health reform of this parliamentary mandate. With air pollution from shipping expected to outstrip land-based emissions by 2020, urgent remedial action is needed", said rapporteur Satu Hassi (Greens/EFA, FI), after her report was approved by 606 votes to 55, with 3 abstentions.
Fuel used in the Baltic Sea, North Sea and English Channel - Europe's 'sulphur emission control areas' (SECAs) - will need to meet the new international standard of 0.1% by 2015 (from 1% currently).
The limits can be met by using cleaner fuels or technology, such as scrubbers, that can deliver an equivalent result.
As part of its review of air quality legislation, the legislation asks the Commission to consider extending the stricter SECA limits to all EU territorial waters, i.e. within 12 nautical miles of the coastline.