Draft IMO HFO ban risks being a paper tiger

The Clean Arctic Alliance implored IMO member states to amend and improve its draft ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic or risk implementing a paper ban.

As the first virtual meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (IMO, MEPC 75) opens on 16 Nov, the Clean Arctic Alliance implored member states to amend and improve its draft ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the Arctic or risk implementing a “paper ban” – a weak regulation that will leave the Arctic exposed to greater danger from oil spills and black carbon pollution from HFO in the future, as shipping in the region increases.

“Instead of rushing headlong into disaster, the IMO and its Member States must make serious amendments to the draft ban on the use and carriage of polluting heavy fuel oil in the Arctic – if they approve the ban as it stands, it won’t be worth the paper it’s written on,” said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance.

“IMO Member States must realize that unless they remove or amend the exemption and the waiver clauses, and bring forward the implementation dates, the HFO ban as currently drafted will leave the Arctic unprotected in the years to come. In fact, it is likely that the volume of HFO used and carried will increase, resulting in a greater risk to the Arctic from HFO spills and black carbon pollution for the next decade.”

At the IMO’s PPR 7 subcommittee meeting in February 2020, the IMO and its member states developed a draft regulation prohibiting the use and carriage as fuel of HFO by ships in the Arctic. However, the inclusion of loopholes in the draft regulation – in the form of exemptions and waivers – means that a HFO ban will not come into effect until mid-2029, leaving Arctic communities, Indigenous peoples and ecosystems exposed to the growing threat of HFO spills for the whole of the 2020s – nearly a decade.

As drafted, the five central Arctic coastal states will be able to issue waivers to their own flagged ships and by-pass the ban. The regulation is not flag-neutral, and it will create a two-tier system of environmental protection and enforcement in the Arctic, along with lower standards and negative environmental consequences in the Arctic’s territorial seas and exclusive economic zones. This version of the ban could also potentially lead to transboundary pollution. 

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