Clean Arctic Alliance protests against flawed IMO HFO ban

The flawed ban will leave the Arctic, its Indigenous communities and wildlife facing the risk of a HFO spill for another decade.

The Clean Arctic Alliance on 20 Nov slammed the decision by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to approve a ban ridden with loopholes on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the Arctic, saying that it would leave the Arctic, its Indigenous communities and wildlife facing the risk of a HFO spill for another decade. 

The ban was approved during a virtual meeting of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 75), despite widespread opposition from Indigenous groups, NGOs and in a statement release last week, the Catholic Church. At the IMO’s PPR 7 subcommittee meeting in February 2020, the IMO agreed on the draft before sending it to MEPC.

Following PPR7, the Clean Arctic Alliance called the inclusion of loopholes – in the form of exemptions and waivers – in the draft regulation “outrageous” as they mean a HFO ban would not come into effect until mid-2029. 

With the ban now scheduled to go forward for adoption at MEPC 76, the Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of 21 non-profit organizations, called for waivers not to be granted by Arctic coastal states and for the deadline beyond which exemptions would not apply to be brought forward.

“By taking the decision to storm ahead with the approval of this outrageous ban, the IMO and its member states must take collective responsibility for failing to put in place true protection of the Arctic, Indigenous communities and wildlife from the threat of heavy fuel oil”, said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance. 

“In its current form, the ban will achieve only a minimal reduction in HFO use and carriage by ships in the Arctic in mid-2024, when it comes into effect. It is now crucial that Arctic coastal states do not resort to issuing waivers to their flagged vessels.”

Heavy fuel oil is a dirty and polluting fossil fuel that powers shipping throughout the world’s oceans – accounting for 80% of marine fuel used worldwide. Around 80% of marine fuel currently carried in the Arctic is HFO; over half by vessels flagged to non-Arctic states – countries that have little if any connection to the Arctic.

As Arctic heating drives sea ice melt and opens up Arctic waters further, even larger non-Arctic state-flagged vessels running on HFO are likely to divert to Arctic waters in search of shorter journey times. This, combined with an increase in Arctic state-flagged vessels targeting previously non-accessible resources, will greatly increase the risks of HFO spills in areas that are difficult to reach, and that lack any significant oil spill containment equipment.

“The ban that the IMO has approved today will mean that a full three-quarters of the ships using HFO today will be eligible for an exemption to the ban, because their fuel tanks are ‘protected’, or because they can apply to an Arctic coastal state for a waiver from the ban,” continued Prior. 

“As a result, the use of HFO in the Arctic is likely to continue to grow until the ban takes full effect in 2029 – so not only does the ban not sufficiently protect the Arctic, it’s actually contributing to a greater exposure to the risks associated with the use of heavy fuel oil.

“The Clean Arctic Alliance urges IMO Member States to seriously consider how the ban can be strengthened ahead of formal adoption next year, and for individual states to examine domestic options for providing the protection required for the Arctic from the risks of HFO use and carriage, such as Norway’s recent proposal to ban HFO from the waters around Svalbard.”

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