The IMO’s Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) has agreed draft amendments to MARPOL Annex I that would prohibit using and carrying heavy fuel oil (HFO) as fuel by ships in Arctic waters with effect from 1 July 2024, but with a provision to allow a waiver for domestic shipping to continue using HFO for another five years.
HFO has been defined as oils having a density at 15°C higher than 900 kg/m3 or a kinematic viscosity at 50°C higher than 180 mm2/s. This is in line with the definition for heavy grade oils covered by Regulation 43 of MARPOL Annex I, which bans carriage of such oils both as fuel and as cargo in the Antarctic. The Arctic HFO ban will not apply to cargo, only the product carried in the ship’s fuel tanks.
The temporary waiver would, for example, allow Russian flagged ships to operate in Arctic waters subject to Russia’s jurisdiction up to 1 July 2029.
As in the Antarctic, ships engaged in securing the safety of ships, or in search and rescue operations, and ships dedicated to oil spill preparedness and response would be exempted from the ban.
The draft amendments will be submitted to the 76th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 76) in October this year for approval, followed by circulation for adoption at MEPC 77 in spring 2021.
PPR 7 also established a correspondence group to continue the development of guidelines on measures to reduce risks of use and carriage of HFO as fuel by ships in Arctic waters, expected to be completed and ready for approval by MEPC 77 in 2021.
These guidelines would cover ship operation, ship construction and heavy fuel oil bunkering, infrastructure and communication, enhancement of heavy fuel oil spill preparedness, early detection and response, and drills and training.
It is worth noting, meanwhile, that under the Polar Code, ships are encouraged not to use or carry HFO in the Arctic, and that MEPC 75 in April will discuss a proposal for a draft resolution calling for ships to voluntarily switch to distillates when operating in or near the Arctic.