The global shipping industry is bracing for a key regulatory decision that could mark a milestone in reducing maritime pollution, but which could nearly double fuel costs in a sector already reeling from its worst downturn in decades. Graham Mackay reports.
A four trillion dollar industry - bracing for a news of major shake up. After talking it over for a decade, regulators could be just weeks from announcing a new era in global shipping capping harmful sulphur emissions - and nearly doubling fuel costs in the process. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ROSLAN KHASAWNEH, REUTERS REPORTER, SAYING: "15 of the world's largest vessels emit more sulphur oxide than all of the world's cars. The shipping industry will have to change the type of fuel that it burns, and this is gonna cost them a lot more, and fuel costs for trade vessels is one of their biggest cost factors. And for the oil industry, there's gonna be a higher cost burden on them, because they're gonna have to invest in equipment to further refine these fuels that are gonna be displaced by the drop in demand from the shipping industry." As well as being bad for the environment - health experts say sulphur emissions from shipping have caused thousands of deaths from heart and lung disease. The new rules could come into effect in either 2020 or 2025. And political pressure is building. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ROSLAN KHASAWNEH, REUTERS REPORTERS, SAYING: "The European Union has already decided that they're gonna go ahead with a sulphur cap by 2020 regardless of what the IMO rules - and this is gonna be effective 200 miles off of European coast line. Also China for example has been gradually upping their standards in terms of fuel burned by these vessels." Shippers wanting to play by the new rules will need to either switch to diesel or liquified natural gas. Or install new technology to clean emissions. But neither of those options come cheap. Adding strain to an industry that's already seen high-profile defaults and even stranded ships with crew left unpaid and unsupplied.