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In just over one month, California issued the largest penalty to date for violations of its at-berth emissions regulation and announced a further strengthenining of the same regulation, proposing to include emissions reduction requirements at additional ports and for new types of vessel such as ro-ro vessels and tankers.

On 7 October 2020, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced a settlement with a shipping company of a penalty close to USD 2 million - the largest penalty to date related to violations of the state’s regulation “Airborne Toxic Control Measure for Auxiliary Diesel Engines Operated on Ocean-Going Vessels At-Berth in a California Port” also known as the At-Berth Regulation. CARB discovered through routine audits that the company’s fleet, over a period of three years, had not met the required time limits for switching to shore power or the overall targets for reduced auxiliary engine power generation, whilst berthed. CARB states that it “hopes this penalty will send a message that violators will pay a hefty price if they fail to comply”. A similar incident involving another shipping company was reported on 18 September 2020, where the company had to pay a penalty of USD 253,300 for the same type of violations but occurring only over a one-year period. 

In view of CARB’s recent statements, we advise operators with fleets of container, refrigerated cargo (reefer) or passenger vessels calling at Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Hueneme, San Francisco, and San Diego to make sure vessels have proper procedures and equipment in place to operate in compliance with California’s At-Berth Regulation, and that crews are trained accordingly.

We also take this opportunity to notify all vessel operators that California is currently in the final stages of adopting new requirements that will further reduce air pollution from vessels at berth. On 27 August 2020, CARB announced its approval of a new regulation, the “Control Measure for Ocean-Going Vessels At Berth”, also known as the Control Measure. Under the new Control Measure, almost all container, reefer, passenger, ro-ro and tanker vessels visiting larger marine terminals in California would be required to use a CARB approved emissions control strategy that achieves at least an 80% reduction in auxiliary engine emissions during a visit at berth. Most vessels would still have to use shore power, although alternatives, such as an emissions capture and control system or another onboard emissions control strategy, could be available. While compliance with the new Control Measure by visiting vessels is not envisaged until 2023, the practices, procedures and equipment needed for compliance could be quite elaborate and costly, and we advise Members and clients with vessels trading to California ports to familiarise themselves with the new regulation, monitor its progress, and review their options for compliance in anticipation of it entering into force.


 The new Control Measure is still awaiting submission to and approval by the Office of Administrative Law. In the meantime, the existing At-Berth Regulation remains in force and we highlight some of its key requirements below.

California’s current At-Berth Regulation

The purpose of California’s At-Berth Regulation is to reduce the public’s exposure to air pollution from vessels berthed at California’s ports. More specifically, the regulation:

  • is aimed at reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and diesel particulate matter (PM) generated by the operation of vessels’ auxiliary engines whilst berthed;
  • applies to fleets of container vessels, reefers and passenger vessels but only when these vessels are frequent visitors to a regulated California port. For fleets of container vessels and reefers, vessels must make 25 or more visits annually to one port to be covered by the Regulation. For fleets of passenger vessels, the ‘fleet visit threshold’ is five or more visits annually to one port;
  • defines regulated California ports as the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Hueneme, San Francisco, and San Diego; and
  • permits fleet operators to choose between two compliance methods: (1) the ‘Reduced Onboard Power Generation Option’, requiring vessels to turn off their auxiliary diesel engines and connect to shore power whilst berthed, or (2) the ‘Equivalent Emissions Reduction Option’, permitting operators to use various control measures, both vessel-side and shore-side technologies, to achieve equivalent at-berth emissions reductions.

The At-Berth-Regulation sets forth progressively tougher emissions reduction targets. A 50% reduction was initially required upon implementation in 2014, then this increased to 70% in 2017, and reached full implementation at an 80% reduction in 2020. Hence, at the time of writing, the following emissions reduction requirements apply:

Reduced Onboard Power Generation Option

Equivalent Emissions Reduction Option

In at least 80% of a fleet’s visits to a regulated port, vessels must operate their auxiliary engines for a maximum of three hours per visit (five hours for vessels with non-synchronous power transfers) and otherwise be connected to shore power. A “visit” is defined as the time period beginning when a vessel is initially tied to a berth and ends when it casts off the lines.

In addition, a fleet’s total auxiliary diesel engine power generation whilst berthed must be reduced by at least 80% from the fleet’s baseline power generation.

The emissions from a fleet’s auxiliary engines when the vessels in the fleet are berthed must be reduced by at least 80% from the baseline fleet emissions.



In the two recent incidents referred to above, fleet operators were penalised for violating both of the requirements set forth under the ‘Reduced Onboard Power Generation Option’.

The existing At-Berth Regulation in its entirety is available on the CARB website and useful guidance regarding its implementation and how to ensure compliance are provided in CARB’s “At Berth FAQs” and “2017 Advisory”.