IMO continues discussion on use of HFO in Arctic waters

IMO continues discussion on use of HFO in Arctic waters

Arctic image by NASA
Arctic image from NASA

Another call has been heard to ban the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic, but while many states support it, a ban does not look imminent.

Green NGOs have long been pressing for the International Maritime Organization to ban HFO in the Artic, mirroring the heavy oil carriage ban already in place under MARPOL Annex I for vessels operating in the Antarctic.

Last week’s 70th meeting of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 70) debated the issue again following a new submission from green NGOs (MEPC 70/17/4 ) highlighting the risks of an HFO spill in this remote and environmentally sensitive region. The paper also highlighted how black carbon emissions – said to be more intense from ship using HFO compared to distillates – contribute to global warming when emitted in Polar Regions.

The NGOs want the IMO to take measures to mitigate the risk associated with the use and carriage of HFO on ships operating in the Arctic, which would require amending regulations and hence needs a concrete proposal for ‘new output’ from a member state. This was not forthcoming at MEPC 70.

MEPC 70 heard two further papers commenting on the NGO submission; MEPC 70/17/9 from Russia and MEPC 70/17/11 from Canada and United States.

Russia’s comment paper cast doubt the scientific basis for IMO acting on the issue, saying there is no data available on HFO spills in ice conditions and contested the conclusion that black carbon emissions from shipping is a major contributor to global warming.

The Canada/US paper, meanwhile, stressed they are committed to work with Artic partners on how best to address the risk of HFO used by ships in the Arctic, looking carefully at the options and solutions. All three countries are among the members of the Arctic Council, and for the time being seemed to prefer dealing with the issue via the Artic Council’s protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group.

Several member states said they support bringing the issue to future sessions of MEPC for consideration. Whether that will translate into any direct proposals to amend IMO regulations remains to be seen.

MEPC 70 was reminded that the Polar Code will become mandatory in 2017, meaning a lot of work has been done already to make shipping in the Artic safe. It may be time to look more closely at the scope of the Polar Code to see if anything more can be done within this framework in order to mitigate as much as possible the probability of any operational accident of ships in that area. In addition, there are plans for more concrete cooperation between IMO and the Artic Council.

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