Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

Cruise Ships in Sydney Harbour, including White Bay

Air emissions from cruise ships can impact on local communities. Many cruise ships emit high levels of fine particles and sulfur dioxide, both of which can be harmful to human health.

In September 2015 the NSW government introduced regulatory requirements for the use of low sulfur fuel (0.1% or less) by cruise ships in Sydney Harbour. The requirements took effect for cruise ships berthed in Sydney Harbour from 1 October 2015, and for cruise ships operating in Sydney Harbour they were due to take effect from 1 July 2016.

This fulfilled a 2015 government election commitment and addressed community concerns raised about emissions from cruise ships, in particular by residents living near the White Bay Cruise Terminal.

In May 2016 the EPA became aware that the Commonwealth Government introduced amendments to the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 into Parliament in September 2015 which were assented to in December 2015 and have resulted in the NSW low sulfur fuel requirements being inoperative from 8 January 2016.

The NSW government will seek agreement with the incoming Commonwealth government to enable the operation of the NSW low sulfur fuel requirements.

In the interim both Carnival Australia and Royal Caribbean have agreed to comply voluntarily with the NSW low sulphur fuel requirements whilst at berth. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the role of government agencies in regulating shipping?

Shipping is a complex area governed by international and national conventions and legislation, such as the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). A number of government agencies are responsible for ensuring that shipping operations comply with legal requirements.

Commonwealth Government

Traditionally regulation and responsibility for international shipping has rested with the Commonwealth Government.

Australia is a signatory to MARPOL and the Commonwealth is responsible for regulating shipping emissions through this convention. MARPOL sets requirements for the sulfur content of fuels used by shipping in Australia at 3.5% to be reduced to 0.5% by 2020 or 2025 (subject to a technical feasibility review).

Department of Planning and Environment (DPE)

DPE is responsible for regulating impacts of the White Bay Cruise Terminal under the Project Approval. The Approval contains conditions relating to noise, air quality and odour. The approval can be accessed on the DPE website.

Port Authority of NSW

The Port Authority of NSW owns and operates the White Bay Cruise Terminal. It is responsible for complying with conditions of the Project Approval and other legislative requirements.

The Port Authority of NSW is working to develop and implement measures to reduce noise impacts from cruise ships on the local community through a Noise Impact Mitigation Strategy.

The Port Authority of NSW is undertaking a technical study into the feasibility of providing shore-to-ship power at the White Bay Cruise Terminal.


Under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997, the EPA is the appropriate regulatory authority for ships in Sydney Harbour that require pilotage - this generally includes cruise ships. The EPA's role includes regulating air and water pollution. Noise pollution at the White Bay Cruise Terminal is regulated by DPE under the project approval, which contains specific noise criteria for terminal operations.

NSW Health

NSW Health works with other government agencies to provide advice to the community and government in relation to potential health impacts associated with cruise ships. More information on air pollution and health can be found on the NSW Health website.

2. What were the outcomes of the 2014 Parliamentary Inquiry which included submissions and presentations from the community about White Bay shipping operations?

The NSW Parliament Upper House held an Inquiry into the Performance of the NSW EPA, and included consideration of the regulation of cruise passenger ships at the White Bay Cruise Terminal at Balmain. The report of the Inquiry has been finalised and is available.

The NSW Government responded to Parliament on the Inquiry recommendations on 13 August 2015. The responses can be found on the NSW Parliament website.

3. How can I lodge a complaint about cruise ship operations?

Complaints about cruise ships and terminal operations should be directed to the Port Authority of NSW.

Phone: 9296 4962 - Community relations manager (24 hours, 7 days)

Phone: 9296 4999 - Switchboard (24 hours, 7 days)


Complaints regarding noise from the White Bay Cruise Terminal can also be directed to the Rail, Ports and Water, Infrastructure Team at the Department of Planning and Environment.

Phone: 9228 6333 (business hours)


Concerns regarding pollution from cruise ships and terminals can also be reported to the EPA.

Phone: 131 555 (24 hours, 7 days)


For more information

Community members are able to raise concerns and report pollution to the EPA's Environment line: phone 131 555 or go to

Page last updated: 24 June 2016