In the first case of its kind in Europe, French court has sued the Captain of the cruise ship 'Azura', operated by P&O Cruises, over breaching sulphur fuel limit, during the ship’s stopover in Marseilles on 29 March. If found guilty, the Master could face up to a year in prison and a fine of up to €200,000.

Captain Evans Hoyt, 58, has been charged after the ship failed to comply with the European law against air pollution, using heavy fuel oil (HFO) containing 1.68% of sulphur, which exceeds the maximum allowed limit of 1.5%. The parent company of P&O Cruises, Carnival, is also being charged.

When the cruise ship arrived at the port in March, authorities took fuel samples. However, when the results revealed a high level of sulphur, Azura had already departed and respective authorities boarded vessel at La Seyne-sur-Mer in the Var, where the Captain admitted to have used a non-compliant fuel. The trial started on 9 July.

According to data provided by the Telegraph, the Captain's lawyer in court, Bertrand Coste, contended that European environment rules unfairly distinguished between limits for cruise ships and those for cargo vessels, which is higher, saying this meant there was a lack of "equality before the law".

However, the prosecutor Franck Laugier was quoted as saying that the charges were justified and that 'the defence is pulling out the stops so that the captain of the Azura escapes his responsibilities'.

In addition, defence lawyers are expected to call for an acquittal, arguing that the 1.5% limit does not apply to the Azura as the vessel is not a 'regular' visitor to European ports, in which case the limit is 3.5%.The European Court of Justice has allegedly already ruled in their favour at this part.

Air pollution is a key area of concern for Mediterranean ports, as cruise ship traffic sees rising development, and particularly for Marseilles, which is trying to position itself as the Mediterranean’s top cruise liner destination until 2020.