“This is the greatest threat to the marine industry since the luxury tax of 1990.”
That statement came from Viking Yachts president and CEO Pat Healey during a press conference at the 2019 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. There were plenty of raised eyebrows among the 50 or so members of the marine-industry media in attendance. Healey continued: “It is going to rock the industry. They’re mandating impossible regulations that require solutions that don’t exist in today’s world.”
The “they” Healey is referring to is an international governing body called the International Maritime Organization, of which the United States is a member. While Viking and other boatbuilders are already in compliance with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Tier III requirements for marine diesels, the IMO Tier III NOx regulations aim to reduce nitrogen-oxide emissions by approximately 70 percent compared to the current IMO Tier II standards. These regulations would apply to any vessels operating in North America, the US Caribbean, and parts of Europe; any vessels passing through these areas must also comply, which essentially means everyone.
In order to reduce nitrogen-oxide emissions by this amount, IMO Tier III regulations would require the installation of selective catalytic reduction systems in the engine rooms of boats with a load line length of 24 meters or greater; the load line length is the distance from the farthest forward point of the bow stem to the rudder post. In the case of Viking, this would apply to its 92-foot Convertible and 93-foot Motor Yachts.
At the heart of the issue is the SCR system’s reliance on the use of urea to treat the engine exhaust. A remote urea tank is required, and it’s 10 percent of the boat’s fuel load. Good luck finding a reliable supply of urea anywhere outside the US. In addition, there is no way at the present time to effectively scale down the technology of these bulky catalytic systems in order to shoehorn them into already-tight engine-room spaces. These systems are designed for ships, ferries and other commercial vessels that operate at an engine load of 80 percent or higher and log tens of thousands of operating hours, not recreational boats that run for a few hundred hours every year.
For now, this only applies to the upper end of the sport-fishing market—generally vessels over 90 feet. But the danger, as Healey points out, is that this cutoff point could be arbitrarily lowered at any time. Next year, it could be 60 feet. “This regulation is being pushed upon us by people who are disconnected completely from the marine industry and the companies and the people who build boats,” he says. And while the current marine diesel technology meets EPA Tier III standards, the engine manufacturers are reporting they probably won’t be compliant with the new standards until 2022 at the earliest.
So, what can we do about it? Unfortunately, not much. Because the US is a member of the IMO by treaty, there is little that can be done politically. In 2018, the International Council of Marine Industry Associations attempted to delay the implementation of the IMO Tier III standards beyond January 2021, but were unsuccessful.
The US is appealing Tier III implementation with the IMO, but it’s an uphill battle. The next meeting of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee will take place in London, from March 30 to April 3, 2020. We will keep a close eye on this important issue, as well
as the impacts it will certainly have on the marine industry.