Emissions from ships cause a wide variety of health and environmental impacts including 50,000 premature deaths a year in Europe , respiratory illnesses, aggravation of heart disease and acid rain.
Shipping emissions are expected to increase by 40% by 2020 by which time they will exceed land-based emissions in the EU, with sulphur and nitrogen oxides the most polluting. 
“With many ships using fuel over 3,500 times dirtier than car fuel we are pleased to finally see EU action on air pollution from ships.,” said T&E’s Bill Hemmings.
The green groups are urging the European Parliament and the Council to follow through on long-promised measures to address growing levels of shipping pollution before they become the predominant source of air pollutants in Europe.
“Lowering the sulphur content of marine fuel is a direct and effective way of avoiding thousands of premature deaths each year. We are pleased to see that the EU has followed the IMO’s lead and hope it will soon extend the reach of this legislation,” said EEB’s Louise Duprez.
NGOs are calling on EU legislators to push for an extension of the stricter sulphur standards due in 2015 to all European Seas. Currently the limit only applies to the North and Baltic Seas, while ships operating in the Mediterranean (which accounts for nearly half of the emissions in Europe), in the North-eastern Atlantic and in the Black Sea will not be required to use low-sulphur fuels.
The same strict standards (0.1%) should also apply to all cruise and passenger ships, say the groups.
Nitrogen oxides emissions from ships are also great a concern, say the NGOs, but there are still no EU standards or measures in place for controlling their release.
“The Commission now needs to come forward with measures to address nitrogen oxides from both new and existing ships as soon as possible,” said Christer Ågren of AirClim.
 With the revised directive, which is based on the IMO fuel efficiency standards contained in Marpol Annex VI, the sulphur limits for marine fuels in international waters will have to drop to 0.5% by 2020 (now they are at 4.5%). In low emission zones, such as the North and Baltic sea, by 2015 the sulphur content of ship fuels will have to drop from current 1.5% to 0.1%.
 Assessment of health-cost externalities of air pollution at the national level using the EVA model system (March 2011). By J. Brandt et al. CEEH Scientific Report No 3. Centre for Energy, Environment and Health. Available at https://www.ceeh.dk/CEEH_Reports/Report_3/index.html