Contact Us


News Releases


U.S. Proposes Major Reductions in Air Pollution from Large Ships in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Island Waters

Release Date: 12/07/2010
Contact Information: Brenda Reyes, (787) 977-5869, or Elias Rodriguez, (212) 637-3664,

(San Juan, Puerto Rico) The United States government has proposed controls on large ships that operate in the waters off the coastlines of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to reduce air pollution from the ships. The proposal to the International Maritime Organization calls for the designation of these waters as an “emission control area.” The designation would require any large ship operating in these areas to use much cleaner fuel or install better pollution control technology. Tankers, container vessels and cruise ships are major sources of air pollution in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The International Maritime Organization is a United Nations agency responsible for improving maritime safety and preventing pollution from ships. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a member of the U.S. delegation to the International Maritime Organization. In March 2010, the International Maritime Organization accepted the government’s proposal to designate waters off all North American coasts as an emission control area. The North American emission control area, together with the eventual designation of the U.S. Caribbean waters, is a key part of a comprehensive EPA program to address harmful air pollution from large ships.

“The sulfur, soot and other harmful air pollutants from large ships reach from ports to inland communities,” said Judith Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “The designation will result in cleaner air for residents of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and the millions of tourists who visit these beautiful islands.”

Exposure to air pollutants from large ships – nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and particulate matter – can cause respiratory illnesses, such as lung disease, asthma, and heart disease. The asthma death rate in Puerto Rico is 2.5 times higher than the rate in the continental United States. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands also have many highly sensitive ecosystems that are already vulnerable and are threatened by pollution.

EPA estimates that by 2020, the requirements for the emission control area will have reduced sulfur dioxides from ships by 96%, fine particles by 86% and nitrogen oxides by nearly 30% from the levels they would otherwise have been at without the designation.

Stricter requirements for ships operating in the waters of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin islands will dramatically reduce nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and particulate matter from them. The ships will have to use cleaner fuel or install pollution control technologies to reduce air pollution. In addition, ships built after January 1, 2016 will have to meet more stringent standards for nitrogen oxides if they operate in the Caribbean emission control area.

The Port of San Juan in Puerto Rico moves approximately 11 million metric tons of goods on nearly 3,800 vessel trips annually. It is also a major destination for over one million cruise ship passengers. St Thomas is the largest cruise port in the U.S. Virgin Islands, with over two million cruise passengers and over 800 cruise ship arrivals.

The area of the proposed U.S. Caribbean emission control area includes waters adjacent to coasts of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The northern and southern boundaries of the proposed area would extend roughly 50 nautical miles and 40 nautical miles, respectively, from the main island of Puerto Rico. The proposed emission control area is bounded so that it does not extend into marine areas subject to the sovereignty, sovereign rights, or jurisdiction of any country other than the United States.

Having been approved by the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the International Maritime Organization, a treaty amendment for the emission control area will now circulate until July 2011 prior to a final vote by the organization.

For a map of the proposed area and more information, visit: