Shipping companies face paying £300 million more for fuel next year because they have not been given enough time to comply with new European Union regulations on sulphur emissions, industry leaders have warned.

The heads of 19 major maritime organisations say in a letter to The Telegraph that they will be forced to switch to low-sulphur fuel on routes to Europe and Scandinavia after new restrictions come into force in January.

The result will be a rise in the cost of low-sulphur fuel, including diesel sold on forecourts, as well as increased carbon emissions due to more freight on roads.

Another option for the industry would be to retrofit engines with new sulphur-extracting technology, but it would be impossible to upgrade a substantial proportion of the UK fleet before the deadline.

The signatories, including senior executives at the UK Chamber of Shipping, P&O Ferries, Brittany Ferries, Stena Line UK and Associated British Ports, call for a grace period to allow the technology, known as scrubbers, to be fitted across the fleet.

“When European shipping shifts to low sulphur fuel, costs will rise by up to 30% for passengers and freight,” they say.

“The impetus is to reduce sulphur by use of technology that is only just ready, and which could take two years to fit to all our ships. But, the EU’s new regulations come into force in January 2015.”

They claim that switching to low sulphur fuel could lead to the loss of 2,000 jobs in Britain and £300 million in additional costs to shipping operators, as well as the arrival of thousands more lorries on Britain’s roads and 12 million tonnes of additional CO2 emissions.

“We urge the government to undertake urgent action to prevent these damaging consequences by insisting that the EU allow pragmatic transitional arrangements,” the letter states.

The new regulations are based on measures agreed by the United Nations International Maritime Organisation to cut sulphur emissions, but the deadline of January 2015 has been imposed by the EU.

Passenger ferries and shorter freight routes stand to be worst hit by the rules, which only apply in specified waters around Europe, including those off the eastern and southern coasts of the UK.

Any increase in operating costs would likely be passed on, resulting in higher prices for ferry passengers and businesses exporting goods to the continent.