Call to address HFO risks

Arctic Around 75% of marine fuel currently carried in the Arctic is HFO. Image courtesy of Clean Arctic Alliance

The Clean Arctic Alliance has called on International Maritime Organization (IMO) member states to support a Canadian proposal to mitigate the risks posed by using heavy fuel oil (HFO) in Arctic waters.

Canada, backed by Finland, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and the US, has submitted a proposal to the IMO’s Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC 71) calling for work to begin on mitigating the risks of use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) as fuel by ships in the Arctic.

Sian Prior, lead advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, said: “With climate change already having enormous impacts on the Arctic region, the Clean Arctic Alliance is calling on IMO members states to support Canada’s proposal, and commence work immediately to reduce the risks posed by the use of heavy fuel oil by shipping in Arctic waters.”

A number of shipping organisations, including expedition tour operator Hurtigruten and the Danish Shipowner’s Association (Danske Rederier) have already called for a ban on heavy fuel oil from the Arctic.

On 29 June, ahead of MEPC71, the Norwegian Shipowners Association also announced that it also supports a ban on HFO use in the Arctic. 

Around 75% of marine fuel currently carried in the Arctic is HFO; over half by vessels unconnected to Arctic states. Concern has also been raised about larger non-Arctic state flagged vessels fuelled by HFO diverting to Arctic waters in search of shorter journey times as sea ice melts and opens up Arctic waters further.

The Clean Arctic Alliance said that this, combined with an increase in Arctic state flagged vessels targeting previously non-accessible resources, will greatly increase the risks of a HFO spill.

Already banned in Antarctic waters, if HFO is spilled in the colder waters of the Arctic, it breaks down slowly, with long-term effects on both livelihoods and ecosystems. HFO is also a higher source of harmful emissions of air pollutants than alternative fuels such as distillate and liquid natural gas (LNG).

Prior added: “It’s vital that the IMO's work to agree measures on HFO risk mitigation in the Arctic be carried out immediately, so that the highest standards for shipping can be adopted and implemented in this especially vulnerable region.

"It would be ridiculous to delay action until Arctic shipping operators have installed technology in the form of scrubbers, which will allow the continued use of HFO beyond 2020, only to then decide to ban HFO because of the spill risk.”

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