Heavy oil ban in the Arctic likely to take years | Polarjournal
Even Canadian Coast Guard Icebreakers are ‘black smokers’ (Photo: Sebastian Moser)

On November 20, 2020, the IMO’s Marine Environment Committee in a virtual meeting decided to ban the use and transport of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the Arctic Ocean. The ban is expected to be formally adopted by the IMO General Assembly in June 2021. The ban is due to come into force from July 1, 2024. The IMO’s decision already has been heavily criticised by some representatives of the region’s indigenous peoples, as due to some gaps, the ban will not come into proper force until 2029.

Hard to believe! Also ‘modern’ cruise ships use heavy oil and often not equipped with soot particle filters and no catalysts. Ships of such shipping company occasionally sail through Arctic waters. (Photo: HFR)

Already, the IMO regulation, which sounds positive, has been criticised by environmental organisations and indigenous groups as being too weak, as there are a number of gaps that will allow HFO to continue to be used until mid-2029. The new regulation allows the Arctic states to adopt derogations for their own flagged vessels. As a result, a complete ban will not come into force before the end of the decade. “The Arctic states and communities have called for a total ban, not half,” said Andrew Dumbrille of WWF. The ban was supported by seven of the eight Arctic countries, as well as indigenous groups such as the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

“In its current form, when it comes into force in mid-2024, the ban will only minimally reduce the use and transport of HFO by ships in the Arctic,” said Dr. Sian Prior, senior adviser to the Clean Arctic Alliance. Due to a number of gaps, almost three-quarters of Arctic shipping could continue to operate as usual. Today’s decision by the International Maritime Organization is a missed opportunity to provide much-needed protection for the Arctic, some environmental organizations said.

HFO (Heavy Fuel Oil) remain mainly as residues of oil processing. Heavy fuel oil serves as fuel for large diesel engines for the propulsion of ships. For injection into the engine combustion chamber, HFO is heated to 130 to 140 °C. The use of heavy fuel oil as fuel for marine engines is denounced by environmental groups. The criticism is directed against the high emission of pollutants. The high soot emissions and the sulphur content of heavy fuel oil are criticised as well.

HFO, or heavy oil, is a viscous oil product that is very difficult to eliminate in the event of a spill in the cold waters of the Arctic. This type of fuel has been banned in the waters around Antarctica for some time. HFO is also an important source of soot emissions. As shipping in Arctic waters increases, so does the risk of pollution.

Environmental groups are now calling on IMO members to tighten the ban before the final vote. They also point to unilateral initiatives to ban HFO in inland Arctic waters, such as Norway’s recent proposal to ban fuel from the waters around Spitsbergen.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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