Arctic HFO ban will include most VLSFOs

A prohibition on the use and carriage for use as fuel of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by ships in Arctic waters has been formally adopted by the IMO, and is set to enter into force on 1 November 2022.

Amendments to MARPOL Annex I that will bring in the Arctic HFO ban were adopted at the 76th session of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 76). It had previously been approved in principle at MEPC 75.

The Arctic HFO use and carriage ban will take effect on 1 July, 2024. There are, however, exemptions for ships with fuel tanks protected by double hulls, and waivers for ships flying the flag of countries with a coastline bordering on Arctic, that will allow these ships to continue carry HFO for use until 1 July, 2029.

Despite repeated concerns about the exemptions and waivers raised by environmental NGOs at prior IMO meetings, the previously approved amendments to MARPOL Annex I concerning the prohibition on the use and carriage for use as fuel of heavy fuel oil by ships in Arctic waters were adopted without any adjustments.

Environmental NGOs had submitted a paper to MEPC 76 asking for waivers to be allowed only in exceptional circumstances, however, as the MARPOL Annex I amendment text was already a carefully drafted compromise, there was no appetite to reopen discussions.

The majority of maximum 0.50% sulphur very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) blends seen in the market so far would be affected by an HFO use and carriage ban.

According to the regulation, the HFO ban will apply to products with a density at 15°C above 900 kg/m3 or a kinematic viscosity at 50°C above 180 cSt.

Earlier this year, IBIA analysed a set of fuel testing data covering the period from the start of 2019 up to the end of February 2021 and found that 95% of VLSFOs would be classified as HFO as they exceeded the density limit in the HFO definition.

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