IMO Member States Urged To Back Arctic Action On Heavy Fuel Oil Risks

Let's get Heavy Fuel Oil out of the Arctic

London, July 3, 2017:- As the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC 71) opens today in London, the Clean Arctic Alliance called on IMO member states to support a Canadian proposal to mitigate the risks posed by the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in Arctic waters (1).

Canada, backed by Finland, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and the US, has submitted a proposal to MEPC, calling for work to begin on mitigating the risks of use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) as fuel by ships in the Arctic (2).

“With climate change already having enormous impacts on the Arctic region, the Clean Arctic Alliance is calling on IMO members states to support Canada’s proposal, and commence work immediately to reduce the risks posed by the use of heavy fuel oil by shipping in Arctic waters”,   said Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of international non-governmental organisations work for an Arctic phase-out of HFO. “IMO members must also commit  to complying with any subsequent measures taken to reduce risks from HFO, including a ban on its use in the Arctic”.

Heavy fuel oil is a dirty and polluting fossil fuel that powers ships throughout our seas and oceans. Around 75% 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.

But as sea ice melts and opens up Arctic waters further, even larger non-Arctic state flagged vessels fuelled by HFO are likely to divert to Arctic waters in search of shorter journey times. Combined with an increase in Arctic state flagged vessels targeting previously non-accessible resources, this will greatly increase the risks of a HFO spill.

Already banned in Antarctic waters, if HFO is spilled in the colder waters of the Arctic, it breaks down slowly, with long-term devastating effects on both livelihoods and ecosystems.  HFO is also a higher source of harmful emissions of air pollutants, such as sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, including black carbon, than alternative fuels such as distillate and liquid natural gas (LNG). When emitted and deposited on Arctic snow or ice, the climate warming effect of black carbon is five times more than when emitted at lower latitudes, such as in the tropics.

A number of shipping organisations, including expedition tour operator Hurtigruten and the Danish Shipowner’s Association (Danske Rederier) have already called for a ban on heavy fuel oil from the Arctic. On June 29, ahead of MEPC71, IMO the Norwegian Shipowners Association also announced that it also supports a ban on HFO use in the Arctic.  

“New IMO measures, including a cap on the sulphur content of ships’ fuel, mean that shipowners are currently considering technologies to allow the ships to continue operating on HFO beyond 2020, it’s vital that the IMO’s work to agree measures on HFO risk mitigation in the Arctic be carried out immediately, so that the highest standards for shipping can be adopted and implemented in this especially vulnerable region”, concluded Prior. “It would be ridiculous to delay action until Arctic shipping operators have installed technology in the form of scrubbers, which will allow the continued use of HFO beyond 2020, only to then decide to ban HFO because of the spill risk.” (3)




  1. MEPC 71 takes place at the International Maritime Organization, London, From July 3-7, 2017.
  2. The Canadian proposal, MEPC 71/14/4 Measures to reduce risks of use and carriage of heavy fuel oil as fuel by ships in Arctic waters, will be discussed during MEPC.  Provided there is consensus the proposal will be accepted and added to the work programme of MEPC which lists “outputs”
  3. It was agreed at MEPC 70 in October 2016, to maintain the 2020 deadline for reducing the cap on the sulphur content of fuel oil to 0.5%. The Clean Arctic Alliance warns that the technology to achieve the maximum permitted sulphur content in emissions will result in scrubbers being installed, would mean that HFO can still be used. Once ship owners have installed scrubbers, they are unlikely to be supportive of a ban on HFO as scrubbers won’t be required when using low sulphur distillate fuels.  It is not known what measures will be agreed to reduce emissions of black carbon; but it is important that the measures agreed to address one problem don’t conflict with the resolution of another. A ban of HFO will solve all these problems – by reducing sulphur content and reducing black carbon and reducing the impact of an oil spill.



MEPC Lunchtime Side Event:

Arctic shipping and heavy fuel oil: A risky business

Date:  Wednesday 5 July 2017

Time:  12:45 – 13:15

Location:  Main Hall, Ground Floor, International Maritime Organization, London

This lunchtime event is organised by members of the Clean Arctic Alliance. The event will focus on the oil spill risks associated with the use of HFO as marine fuel in the Arctic, and will highlight recent insights on oil spill preparedness in the Canadian Arctic. It will also consider environmental and economic trade-offs of alternatives to the use of HFO. Views will be expressed by a representative of indigenous communities on the “frontline” of a changing Arctic and by a shipping industry representative.

Moderator: Austin Ahmasuk, Kingikmiu Inuit and Marine Advocate



Andrew Dumbrille: WWF Canada

Bryan Comer PhD: International Council on Clean Transportation ICCT

Eduard Zdor: Aborigen Forum

Maria Bruun Skipper: Danish Shipping

More details:

Note: Press access required from IMO Media Centre


Indigenous Groups at MEPC

Representatives of Arctic indigenous groups will take part in MEPC 71, including Eduard Zdor of the Aborigen Forum (an informal network of independent experts, activists, leaders and indigenous organizations from the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation), Austin Ahmusak, marine advocate for Kawerak, Inc, Alaska, and Verner Wilson III, Director of Natural Resources at Bristol Bay Native Association, Alaska. Mr Ahmusak will lead the Clean Arctic Alliance side event on 5 July, which also features Mr Zdor as a speaker, and the delegation are also expected to meet the IMO Secretary General during MEPC 71.


During the previous meeting, MEPC70 in October 2016, a panel of Arctic indigenous speakers addressed the IMO, describing life on the frontline of a changing Arctic environment, and outlining the benefits and threats posed by shipping to food security and way of life in the north during a session that considered the importance of Arctic indigenous food security in light of increasing Arctic shipping. They also met with the IMO Secretary General Mr Kitack Lim to discuss specific measures the MEPC can take, including banning HFO, in order to eliminate spill risk and emissions impacts, as well as taking stronger environmental provisions in the Polar Code. The IMO is currently not advised by an indigenous delegation when setting shipping policy, despite the likelihood that indigenous communities will be directly involved in the first line of response in the event of a major shipping accident in Arctic waters.



For more information, including interview requests, please contact Dave Walsh, Communications Advisor, HFO-Free Arctic Campaign, [email protected], +34 692 826 764


More about HFO

  • Heavy fuel oil (HFO) is a viscous fossil fuel used to power ships and deliver goods all over the world. As the dirtiest and most polluting of fuels, HFO is a problem wherever it’s used, but if spilled in colder regions, such as Arctic waters, HFO breaks down even more slowly and can devastate livelihoods and ecosystems.
  • HFO produces harmful and significantly higher emissions of air pollutants, including sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, and black carbon (BC). When emitted and deposited on Arctic snow or ice, the climate warming effect of black carbon is up to five times more than when emitted over open ocean.
  • A report published in April 2017 by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT),  Alternatives to heavy fuel oil use in the Arctic: Economic and environmental tradeoffs finds that using heavy fuel oil in Arctic shipping creates such great risks compared to the cost of moving to safer fuels, that transitioning to these safer fuels is the only rational action for Arctic ship operators.
  • On May 1st 2017, the ICCT also published Prevalence of heavy fuel oil and black carbon in Arctic shipping, 2015 to 2025, providing estimates on heavy fuel oil (HFO) use, HFO carriage, the use and carriage of other fuels, BC emissions, and emissions of other air and climate pollutants in the Arctic for the year 2015, with projections to 2020 and 2025.
  • On March 16th 2017, the European Parliament voted to support a ban on HFO from Arctic waters, as part of the EU’s “Arctic Resolution”. The Resolution calls “on the Commission and the Member States to actively facilitate the ban on the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) and carriage as ship fuel in vessels navigating the Arctic seas through MARPOL of IMO” (See Clean Arctic response)
  • During March 2017, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim attended the meeting of Arctic Council Senior Officials in Juneau, Alaska, where he highlighted the importance of safety of seafarers and protection of the Arctic environment.
  • In December 2016, Canada and the US announced a joint “phase down” of HFO from their respective Arctic regions (see Clean Arctic Alliance response). In September 2016, both countries had formally notified the International Maritime Organization that a “heavy fuel oil spill in the Arctic could cause long-term damage to the environment”.
  • During the IMO’s MEPC 70 meeting in October 2016, three papers addressing the HFO problem were presented, along with one on Arctic food security. In response, several Arctic countries, and in an unusual move, the IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim, stated that they shared the concerns summarised by the papers and on the need for further consideration of the risks of HFO (see Clean Arctic Alliance response).
  • The Clean Arctic Alliance believes that use of HFO in the Arctic can be stopped by 2020 if governments and business demand action by the International Maritime Organization to ban the use of HFO. The Alliance encourages the shipping industry to switch to higher quality, alternative fuels, before such a ban is in place.

About the Clean Arctic Alliance

The following not-for-profit organisations form the Clean Arctic Alliance, which is committed to achieving the phase-out of HFO as marine fuel in the Arctic:

Alaska Wilderness League, Bellona, Clean Air Task Force, Danish Ecological Council, Environmental Investigation Agency, European Climate Foundation, Friends of the Earth US, Greenpeace, Icelandic Nature Conservation Association, Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union, Ocean Conservancy, Pacific Environment, Seas At Risk, Surfrider Foundation, Transport & Environment and WWF.

For more information visit

The Arctic Commitment:

On January 25th 2017, expedition cruise ship operator Hurtigruten and the Clean Arctic Alliance signed the Arctic Commitment, which challenges businesses and organisations to step forward and call on the International Maritime Organization to implement a phase-out of polluting heavy fuel oil (HFO) from Arctic shipping by 2020.

A number of other organisations, including the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, have also now signed the Arctic Commitment. The full text of the Arctic Commitment, and the list of signatories can be found here:

Share this post

Related posts