IMO Decarbonization on Maritime Emissions: Tugboat Compliance & Solutions

Author: Rick Broersma

IMO Decarbonization maritime - decarbonization of shipping - tugboats
Foto von Mika Baumeister auf Unsplash

Navigating Regulatory Change In Decarbonization: Implications For The Tugboat Industry

Understanding Evolving Maritime Regulations and Overcoming Challenges during the IMO Decarbonization Phase

In response to escalating concerns about climate change, the shipping industry is undergoing a transformative phase led by global mandates such as the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) ambitious targets for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2050. Additionally, regional regulations, such as the European Union’s ETS system, are set to impact emissions reduction strategies in and across the maritime sector. Their impacts on the tugboat industry, although limited today, are likely to be increased in the near-future.

International Maritime Organization Logo Decarbonization Tugboat legal - LionRock Maritime
International Maritime Organization Logo

IMO Decarbonization: What are the main global and regional regulations around emission and emissions reduction?

Global Regulations

The IMO, a United Nations agency responsible for regulating shipping, sets global standards for the safety, security, and environmental performance of international shipping. The IMO has set targets aimed at achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2050, establishing a timeline with essential milestones. Using 2008 levels as the baseline, the organization aims to achieve a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

To meet these ambitious goals, the IMO’s 2023 strategy outlines a timeline for implementation. However, a 2023 IMO study indicates that the current policy measures might not sufficiently reach the 2030 goal. The study suggests the need for increased policy ambition, stating that policies effective by 2025 are necessary to achieve the targets. Consequently, to maintain the set timeline, the implementation of further policies may be needed, suggesting that further policies and restrictions are in development.

Starting from January 1, 2023, all ships are mandated to calculate their attained energy efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) to measure their energy efficiency. Simultaneously, they are required to begin data collection for reporting their annual operational carbon intensity indicator (CII), assessing a ship’s annual reduction factor necessary for improving operational carbon intensity. Ships will receive ratings (A, B, C, D, or E) based on their CII performance levels. Ships consistently underperforming (rated D for three years or E for one year) will need to submit corrective performance plans. Later, as mid-term measures are adopted in 2025, a fuel standard and GHG pricing mechanism will be introduced. The combination of these measures is essential to create demand certainty for new fuels and incentivize the green transition.


Regional Regulations

In addition to the global IMO system, the European Union’s Emission Trading System (EU-ETS) will expand to include the maritime sector. The cap-and-trade system is the cornerstone of the EU’s strategy, ensuring the EU’s climate objectives become binding (GHG domestic reduction target of at least 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030). Following the recent enactment of the Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification Regulation for maritime transport, maritime activities are now included in this trading system, mandating emissions from specific ship types to be computed. 

The implementation of the regulation will follow a phased timeline, initially focusing on monitoring procedures. Subsequently, a carbon trading system will be introduced. The rollout schedule will vary based on emission type and ship characteristics. Initially monitoring CO2 emissions, as they constitute the majority of greenhouse gas emissions from maritime transport. CO2 emissions will be included in the EU-ETS in 2024, followed by the monitoring of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. From 2026 onwards, methane and nitrous oxide will be included in the EU-ETS. Initially, the regulation applies to cargo or passenger ships of 5,000 GT and above, later extending coverage to offshore vessels of more than 5000 GT and smaller ships between 400-5000 GT from January 1, 2025. The initial monitoring will be extended to the EU-ETS in 2024 (for cargo/passenger ships of 5,000+ GT), and in 2027 (offshore and general cargo ships 400-5000 GT).

Companies are obligated to report aggregated emissions data at the company level to the relevant authority and the EU Commission by March 31 each year. Compliance responsibility rests with the shipping company, requiring them to surrender European Union allowances (EUAs) and bear the associated costs. The shipping company is responsible for defining the monitoring plan for fuel consumption calculation for each vessel under its purview. Similar to the IMO regulations, entities involved in shipping operations are responsible for compliance. Ship owners, operators, and manufacturers must invest in emission reduction technologies, transition to alternative fuels, and adhere to the IMO’s emission reduction targets. Consequently, ship owners face a complex set of challenges and opportunities due to the proposed amendments aiming for zero-emission shipping. Adapting to these changes will necessitate significant investments, adherence to new regulations, operational adjustments, and proactive engagement in long-term planning and collaborations.

How will these regulations specifically affect the tugboat sector?

Having explored the regulations impacting the maritime industry, it’s essential to examine their direct implications for the tugboat sector. These rules carry diverse effects across various facets of shipping, making it crucial to understand their specific influence on tugboats. Let’s delve into how these regulations manifest as challenges and transformations within the tugboat industry. 

Starting January 2025, tugboats exceeding 400 gross tonnage (GT) that operate offshore and fall within the specified criteria will be subject to the EU-MRV. This scheme necessitates the measurement, reporting, and verification of emissions for vessels operating within the European Union. Like other vessels, the monitoring focuses on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and later extends to methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. From 2027, the tugboats exceeding 400 GT will be subject to the ETS scheme. Not only does this mean monitoring, reporting, and verifying their vessels’ emissions, they also need to purchase and surrender emission allowances (EUAs) equivalent to their vessel’s emissions. This incurs costs as they may need to buy additional allowances if their emissions exceed their allocated cap. 

Similar to the EU regulations, IMO regulations require tugboat operators to track their Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) ratings for tugs exceeding 400 GT. However, instead of being subject to carbon pricing, the IMO focuses on improving the environmental friendliness of ships. If ships score lower than average on their annual operational carbon intensity indicator (CII), they are obliged to improve in the next three years (if scoring D – minor inferior) or in the next year (if scoring E – inferior performance level).

So, is the magic number 400 GT? It appears that these regulations were not designed with tugboats in mind. Smaller tugboats, falling below the 400 gross tonnage (GT) mark, constitute a more substantial portion of the tugboat fleet compared to larger vessels. Further, the adaptation of these regulations to tugboats might present challenges due to their operational uniqueness, which might not fit the standard emissions monitoring criteria designed for larger vessels. However, the European Commission has expressed its intention to expand the scope of application over time and is planning to present a report to the European Parliament and to the European Council by 31 December 2026. By examining the feasibility of expanding the EU-ETS to smaller ships. Thus, despite the EU-ETS regulation not aiming at tugboats yet, it seems this will be likely as it increases its scope.

What challenges do tugboat operators face to implement or abide by these regulations?

The tugboat sector faces several significant challenges in implementing and adhering to the evolving maritime regulations. Tugboats, known for their distinct operational nature characterized by short bursts of high-intensity activities, encounter difficulties in complying with standardized emission metrics tailored for larger vessels. Traditional emission-tracking metrics, like the GT (Gross Tonnage) to fuel consumption ratio, do not accurately reflect the varying power and fuel consumption levels among tugboats.

Compliance becomes a complex puzzle for tugboat operators due to regulations like the Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI), the EU-Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (EU-MRV) scheme, and potential expansions of the EU Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS). These regulations, initially designed for larger vessels, lack the specificity needed to precisely monitor and report tugboat emissions. Implementing emission-tracking systems poses financial and technological hurdles, with high upfront costs and the challenge of integrating new technologies into older tugboat models. 

The tugboat sector’s unique operational profiles require tailored emission reduction practices distinct from long-distance vessels. Adapting to upcoming frameworks, such as the IMO’s fuel standard and market-based measures, requires significant fleet and infrastructure adjustments. Additionally, the tugboat industry must prepare for potential expansions of regulations, as the European Commission explores widening the scope of the EU-ETS to smaller ships.

How maritime data and LionRock can help overcome these challenges

In navigating the challenges posed by evolving maritime regulations, data and innovative solutions like LionRock emerge as instrumental tools for the tugboat sector. With a crucial aspect of compliance being the measurement and tracking of fleet emissions, LionRock offers a crucial solution. Its capability to effectively monitor fuel consumption allows for accurate and comprehensive emission data collection, enabling tugboat operators to meet regulatory requirements in a cost-efficient manner.

Tugboat operators are dealing with the need to comply with evolving global and regional regulations aiming for emissions reductions in the maritime sector. Challenges revolve around aligning unique operational profiles with standardized regulations, investing in cost-efficient technologies, and overcoming financial and technological barriers to accurately measure and reduce emissions. LionRock Maritime addresses these challenges by providing tailored data analytics, predictive models, and compliance strategies to aid tugboat companies in their journey towards decarbonization while ensuring operational efficiency and market competitiveness.

As maritime regulations continue evolving, the tugboat industry may inevitably face an extended scope of compliance. While current regulations might not directly impact smaller tugboats, anticipating future regulatory convergence is crucial. Tugboat operators should proactively increase fuel efficiency to prepare for forthcoming mandates. Reducing fuel consumption aids environmental sustainability and positions companies favorably for future compliance. Operating with increased fuel efficiency ensures a competitive edge and readiness for the changing industry.

You can schedule a meeting with our representatives and get a consultation on how you can achieve a better operational efficiency: Schedule a Call now.

Does your Towage Company need Assistance on the IMO Decarbonization efforts?

Tugboat operators facing the complexities of new IMO and EU emissions regulations can find a reliable ally in LionRock. Our expertise in maritime data and analytics offers the perfect solution, such as our Waste Free Shipping solution, for efficient compliance and enhanced operational performance. Don’t let regulatory challenges hinder your progress. Partner with LionRock to future-proof your fleet and thrive in the evolving maritime landscape. Contact us now to set your course for success.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the major global regulations driving emission reduction in the shipping industry?

The shipping industry faces transformative changes due to global regulations set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and regional mandates like the European Union's Emission Trading System (EU-ETS). The IMO aims for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, setting a 40% reduction target by 2030. Ships must calculate their Existing Ship Index (EEXI) and report operational carbon intensity indicators (CII) starting January 1, 2023, with more stringent measures planned by 2025. The EU-ETS, focusing on a 55% reduction in GHG by 2030, involves phased monitoring and carbon trading starting in 2024, initially for larger vessels, later extending to smaller ships.

How will global regulations on decarbonization affect the tugboat sector?

Tugboats above 400 GT operating offshore will be subject to the EU-MRV by January 2025, mandating emissions monitoring and later carbon trading by 2027. Similarly, tugboats exceeding 400 GT need to track their EEXI ratings under IMO regulations. The unique operational nature of smaller tugboats and the regulations designed for larger vessels pose challenges for their adaptation. However, the EU intends to expand regulations to smaller ships by 2026-2027.

What challenges do tugboat operators face in implementing current regulations on decarbonization?

Tugboat operators encounter difficulties aligning their operations with standardized metrics intended for larger vessels. The complexity of emissions tracking systems, high costs, and technological integration into older tugboat models hinder compliance. Tailored emission reduction practices and infrastructure adjustments pose further challenges.

How can data and LionRock assist tugboat operators in meeting regulatory requirements on decarbonization?

In addressing evolving regulations, LionRock offers crucial data analytics and predictive models for efficient monitoring of fleet emissions. This aids tugboat companies in accurate emission's measurement, compliance, and transitioning towards decarbonization. Increasing fuel efficiency proactively ensures preparedness for upcoming compliance, aligning companies with future regulatory changes.

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The Path to Decarbonization: Tracking CO2 Emissions from Tugboats

Author: Rick Broersma

Maritime co2 emissions from Ships Decarbonisation for Tugboats - LionRock Maritime
Photo by Anton Khatkevich

Decarbonization Journey: Monitoring Tugboat CO2 Emissions in Ports

Tracking the journey towards reduced shipping emissions, through tugboats.

The effects of climate change are increasing the urgency of all sectors to curb their emissions, including the maritime industry. Organizational bodies and governments are increasing the pressure and incentive to do so. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set net-zero greenhouse gas emission goals by 2050, and the EU-ETS system has enacted fees for excessive maritime CO2 emissions. With these high goals, smaller pieces of shipping, such as tugboats, are often overshadowed by larger vessels. Yet, tugboats are an opportunity for substantial reductions in shipping emissions.

CO2 Emissions in Ports Example
Relative emissions by vessel type based on a study Levelton in 2002 on the emissions of vessels in British Colombia and Washington State

A Critical Path to Sustainability: Measurement and Monitoring

International waste requires an international approach. That’s why organizations such as the IMO have instated the 2050 goal, with checkpoints along the way. The soonest checkpoint is 2030, with a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as compared to 2008.  In addition to international commitments, local ports have also become focal points for emissions reductions.  


Achieving these goals has its own set of challenges between operational, technical, and financial barriers. For ports, these challenges often center around upgrading infrastructure and implementing advanced emissions-reducing technologies, while being transparent about the success of these efforts. 


The unique challenges for towage companies in this respect include issues of operational efficiency and cost barriers. Energy-efficient technologies typically come with high upfront costs, making it challenging to align with short-term business objectives.


While facing these barriers, tugboat companies must also comply with new 2023 regulations. These operators are required to track their Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) ratings, though only for their tugs exceeding 400 GT. Moreover, offshore vessels over 400 GT (which a selection of tugs will fall under) operating in the EU will also be subjected to the EU-MRV scheme to measure and report emissions.


Accurate measurement and monitoring of tugboat decarbonization is crucial for carbon reduction. In order to reduce emissions from ships, they need to be tracked, recorded, and monitored to accurately report numbers and define the best reduction practices. 


The unique characteristics of tugboats and their varying operations make compliance with standard regulations like EEXI and EU-MRV challenging. These systems often look at the power used per the size of the vessel. Tugboats, however, are typically comparable in size, but have strong variance in power (and fuel consumption) which means a GT to fuel consumption is meaningless for this class.  For tugboats, transitioning to lower emissions requires detailed understanding of these ships’ unique operational profiles. Tugboats operate in short bursts of high-intensity, meaning that traditional metrics meant for long-distance vessels are not entirely transferable. To ensure this data is relevant and actionable, it must be tailored to the tugboats themselves.

Certification and Compliance: Ensuring a Sustainable Legacy

Validating Green Milestones

Certification allows for proof of sustainable progress. This means standardized metrics for emissions measurement and reporting are essential. The industry relies on tools like the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Data Collection System for fuel oil consumption of ships to guide this process. These systems ensure that emission reductions are not just claimed, but verified and recognized globally, contributing to a transparent and accountable shift towards greener operations.


Adhering to a Greener Code

Compliance with regulations, such as the IMO’s upcoming EEXI and CII metrics, anchors sustainable practices in legality. Tugboat operators are required to keep pace with these regulations, which act as both directives and benchmarks for the industry’s environmental efforts. The EEXI serves as a measure of a ship’s energy efficiency, while the CII tracks the operational carbon intensity. These regulations form a framework that compels operators to invest in cleaner technologies and operational practices that reduce emissions, ensuring a collective move towards a greener maritime future.

Decarbonizing Ports: Overcoming Challenges in Tugboat Emission Tracking

Tracking emissions is a necessary step towards a greener shipping industry. However, tracking emissions on tugboats is certainly not an overnight process. Operational, financial, and technological barriers have all slowed down the process at one point or another. 


Certain equipment used to track emissions can be bulky or expensive. With a 25-year average lifespan, there may not be a lot of incentive to spend the money, or have a tugboat out of operation, for an older boat. This slows down both port decarbonization, and reaching the IMO goals. 


Not all tugboat technology has been able to combat these issues, while ensuring accurate and beneficial information for the company. Spending time and money on soon-to-be outdated technology isn’t an attractive company decision. However, as the shift to greener ports quickens, so have technological adaptations. The barriers to emission tracking are all connected. By improving one area, technology, the other burdens, financial and operational, become easier. 


To comply with the regulatory guidelines, tugboat companies need access to quality technology. Luckily for them, it’s easy to access. 

LionRock Maritime's Vanguard Role in Green Towage

New emission goals cannot be met with old methods. To meet the IMO’s 40% reduction target by 2030, tugboat operators must improve their EEXI and CII metrics as fast as new technology allows them too. This is why new, advanced data is an essential part of reducing port emissions for towage companies. 


Companies such as LionRock Maritime are paving the way in maritime decarbonization with data-driven solutions. They use technology, algorithms, and data in tailor-made offerings for towage companies, providing operations with the necessary data analytics to establish accurate emission baselines. Their packages, such as “Waste Free Shipping” help towage companies by lowering costs, and help the environment by lowering carbon emissions. No initial devices or investments are needed to obtain it, meaning that company tugs don’t have to sit out of operation. LionRock Maritime helps lower a financial barrier to emission tracking by using their new technology. With them, companies are able to align their strategies with IMO standards with a transparent data-driven approach. 

Innovative Solutions for Enhanced Operational Efficiency

Understanding the distinct energy patterns of tugboats is critical for achieving emission reductions. LionRock Maritime understands this importance in their “Port Exploration” package. The goal of this package is to reduce fuel consumption, specifically in tugboat services. Using LionRock developed algorithms and predictive models, optimal route planning and fuel consumption analytics are made easily accessible. This tool empowers companies to make real-time decisions that can drastically reduce emissions. When integrated into a towage company’s existing operational framework, the technological tool encourages more efficient tugboat sailing behaviors without imposing a burden on management teams. LionRock Maritime works with tugboat companies, to take the path to lower emissions and save costs together.

You can schedule a meeting with our representatives and get a consultation on how you can achieve a better operational efficiency: Schedule a Call now.

Strategic Compliance and Market Competitiveness

Compliance with evolving regulations is not just about adherence in business, it’s’ about a competitive edge. LionRock Maritime’s insights into towage markets and operational benchmarks empower operations to exceed regulatory standards, enhancing their market position. By providing a clear roadmap for sustainable growth and operational excellence, LionRock Maritime’s services support tugboat sector operators in forming a legacy of sustainability.

Navigating Towards a Greener Maritime Future

Maritime decarbonization needs to be addressed from all angles. This means that ports, and the role that tugboats play in international shipping, are as important to the environmental movement as any. By using and supplying companies with the data and technology they need to track and lower their carbon emissions, steps are taken to meet the IMO’s goals. LionRock Maritime helps with their “Waste Free Shipping” Report to do this through their highly developed and easily accessible packages, setting a sustainability standard within the maritime sector, through tugboats.


If you want to take your tugboat operations towards a more efficient, eco-friendly horizon, contact LionRock Maritime to chart your course towards maritime decarbonization.  


Frequently Asked Questions

What role do emissions from ships play in global climate change?

Ship emissions contribute significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions, with maritime transport emitting around 940 million tonnes of CO2 annually. This represents about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it a critical sector to target for decarbonization efforts to combat climate change.

How can maritime CO2 emissions be measured and reduced effectively?

Maritime CO2 emissions can be measured using tools like the Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) and the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII). Reducing these emissions can involve adopting cleaner fuels, improving operational efficiency, and investing in new technologies such as alternative propulsion systems.

What is maritime decarbonization, and why is it important?

Maritime decarbonization refers to the industry's efforts to reduce carbon emissions from ships, aiming for a more sustainable future. It's significant because the maritime sector is a significant contributor to global emissions, and reducing these emissions is vital to meeting international climate goals and preventing environmental damage.

Can you explain the regulatory framework guiding maritime decarbonization?

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) leads the regulatory framework for maritime decarbonization, setting ambitious targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping to net-zero by 2050 compared to 2008 levels. Compliance with these regulations is enforced through measures like the EEXI and CII, which promote energy efficiency and lower carbon footprints.

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#IWBS 2022

#IWBS 2022

LionRock Maritime will be exhibiting at the #Workboatshow in New Orleans from 30 November to 2 December this year. Please find us at booth 244 in the Launch Pad area, which is reserved for innovative companies servicing the Tugboat industry.

Value of tugboat speed optimization when using alternative fuels

Is tugboat speed optimization still relevant when using alternative marine fuels?

Tugboat operators are (gradually) transitioning to using alternative marine fuels than traditional diesel. Propelled by a call for urgent action to avoid climate change, the maritime industry as a whole is evaluating various options as a source of marine fuel. At LionRock we often get the question whether speed reduction to ECO speed for tugboats is still relevant once this transition to alternative fuels has been made in full. We asked 4 students (Arend Bijleveld, Benthe Kleinbekman, Daniel Mertens en Ante Simic) from the Rotterdam Mainport Institute to help us evaluate this question for a few of the main alternative fuels. We asked them to look at it from the view of cost, GHG emissions and practical considerations such as energy storage constraints. Here their conclusions for Hydrogen tugs, full electric tugs, Methanol based propulsion and finally LNG powered tugs.

Value of tugboat speed optimization when using alternative fuels


When looking purely at a Mega Joule per kilogram value, hydrogen comes out on top. With an energy density almost three times that of diesel, this would mean that much less hydrogen would be needed to do the same work. In addition, the carbon emissions of hydrogen, provided it is so-called “green hydrogen”, are zero. Theoretically, the emission of nitrogen oxides should also be zero, but in practice a certain amount is a certain amount is emitted anyway. The downside, however, is that storing hydrogen presents many challenges; in order to store it compactly in liquid form it must be stored under high pressure or extremely low temperatures. Furthermore, the cost of hydrogen is currently about two to six times the price of diesel. When the costs of hydrogen and diesel are compared with their energy densities, it can be concluded that saving is still relevant from a financial point of view. A major additional driver for speed optimization is the storage constraint.

Full electric

Sailing electrically means that the electric motors are powered by a battery pack that is charged from the shore when the tug is alongside. When using the energy from the battery packs, no emissions are released and an electric ship can easily sail within the future regulations. How sustainable it ultimately is, however, remains to be seen as it depends on how the electricity was previously generated. The cost will be somewhat lower than running on diesel, and therefore there the financial need will be low. However, again, a major driver for speed optimization is the limited energy storage capacity in batteries.


Methanol has an energy density value about half that of diesel. In addition to the fact that the energy density of methanol is lower, the volumetric density is also lower compared to diesel. The combustion of methanol releases a similar amount of carbon dioxide as with diesel. However, the emission of nitrogen and sulfur oxides is drastically lower. As a result, methanol-fueled ships will meet future emissions regulations. One disadvantage of methanol is that it requires a larger fuel tank for the same endurance of the ship. Hence taking up more space on board. With the expected prices for methanol in the future, it is possible that sailing on methanol will become cheaper than sailing on diesel.


LNG possesses the highest energy density of the fuels discussed after hydrogen. In comparison with diesel, LNG has a higher energy density but a lower volumetric density. Storage of LNG must also take place at low temperatures because otherwise it would evaporate. LNG requires a number of modifications to the ship, the main ones being larger fuel tanks and a new fuel tanks and a new or rebuilt engine. The cost of one kilo of LNG is comparable to that of a kilo of diesel. Because the energy density is somewhat higher, the cost of LNG are slightly lower, the margins on fuel savings are smaller compared to diesel. However burning LNG also emits N20 which is a greenhouse gas 265 times more potent than CO2 so operators do well by keeping speeds as ECO efficient as possible.

Slowsteaming remains relevant. Contact us

From this review that the need for speed optimization remains relevant. Depending on the type of fuel used, the driver for speed optimization becomes different. It might be cost, the emissions or simply the energy storage space constraint.


RMIPIP01 – ADVIESRAPPORT by Arend Bijleveld, Benthe Kleinbekman, Daniel Mertens en Ante Simic