The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) reconfirmed its support for an international ban on heavy fuel oil (HFO) for all ship traffic in the Arctic at its annual general meeting this week.
Currently, HFO is only banned in the nature reserves and the large national parks in Svalbard.
Such a ban would be beneficial to avoid the geographical differences, different national regulations as well as competitive differences between areas and among operators and would also be consistent with AECO’s objectives to support regulations with clear environmental benefits, the organization said.
HFO breaks down extremely slowly in cold Arctic waters. It is currently used by 44 percent of the ships operating in the Arctic, and it accounts for more than 75 percent of the fuel onboard those ships, according to International Council on Clean Transportation figures.
October’s IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC70) meeting left environmental groups optimistic about a potential ban on HFO use in the Arctic.
After three papers on HFO were presented, several Arctic countries along with IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim stated that they shared the view that the risks needed further consideration. The IMO agreed to new work on the regulation of HFO to its program, and set a deadline for completion of this work in order to consider a phase out of Arctic HFO use by 2020.
In September 2016, the U.S. and Canada formally notified the IMO that a heavy fuel oil spill in the Arctic could cause long-term damage to the environment. The nations submitted a statement on the topic to MEPC70 expressing their commitment to work with Arctic partners and follows March 2016 commitments made by U.S. President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau to “determine with Arctic partners how best to address the risks posed by heavy fuel oil use and black carbon emissions from Arctic shipping.”
Also in September, the Danish political party Venstre, the Danish Shipowner’s Association, and Arctic cruise operator Hurtigruten called for regulating or banning the use of HFO in the Arctic.
Heavy fuel oil is already banned throughout Antarctica. The IMO did not include an Arctic ban in the Polar Code due to take effect in 2017.