IMO Must Renew Commitment to Arctic Shipping Heavy Fuel Oil Ban

Let's get Heavy Fuel Oil out of the Arctic

London, 22 October 2018:- As the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 73) gathers today in London, the Clean Arctic Alliance called on member states to “renew their commitment” so that a ban on the use and carriage of polluting heavy fuel oil from Arctic shipping can be adopted in 2021.

At MEPC 72, in April 2018, the majority of IMO members agreed in principle to this ban. Heavy fuel oil (HFO) is back on the agenda this week, when MEPC 73 will examine an impact assessment methodology ahead of sending the “Scope of Work”,  which sets out the work to be done to reduce the risks associated with the “use and carriage of heavy fuel oil as fuel by ships in Arctic waters” including the proposal for a ban, to a sub-committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR6) in February 2019.

“IMO member states must be resolute in ensuring that the Arctic ban on heavy fuel oil is developed by 2020, and adopted  in 2021, to protect Arctic ecosystems and communities from both the threat of oil spills and the impact of black carbon emissions”, said Dr Sian Prior, lead advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of 18 non-governmental organisations working to end HFO use as marine fuel in Arctic waters. “Discussions regarding impact assessments at MEPC73 must support, but not hinder progression towards the ban.  In addition, IMO member states have a duty to ensure that Arctic communities are not forced to carry any economic costs associated with a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil.”

The strongly-worded MEPC72 proposal to ban HFO as shipping fuel from Arctic waters was co-sponsored by Finland, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the US. The proposal, along with a proposal to assess the impact of such a ban on Arctic communities from Canada, was supported by Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Ireland, Japan, the League of Arab States, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and the UK. Support from Denmark was particularly notable as it is the sixth Arctic nation to support the ban; In September, Greenland announced that it would add its support for a ban. Earlier in July, the Inuit of Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Chukotka added further weight to the calls to end the use of HFO in the Arctic in the Utqiagvik Declaration (page 4).

The EU has continued to offer support for a HFO ban, including as part of an EU Parliament resolution in the context of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. On Friday October 19, speaking at the Arctic Circle conference in Iceland, EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella said that “reducing black carbon emissions in the Arctic remains high on our list of priorities. And after the entry into force of the Polar Code last year, we are now pushing for international standards for ships using and/or carrying Heavy Fuel Oil.”

Canada and Russia have also both supported IMO work to consider ways to mitigate the risks associated with HFO, but Canada has yet to take a position on a ban. Recent analysis by CE DELFT of the potential impact of a HFO ban on consumer goods found that additional costs of food shipped to Iqaluit in Northern Canada would increase household expenditure by 0.2%, assuming that the ban-related additional transport costs are fully passed on (although other newly published research has shown that there was no correlation between fuel costs and food prices in the same region between 2014 – 2017).

“The world is moving ahead with a ban on use and carriage of heavy fuel oil. By committing now to banning the world’s most hazardous and polluting ship fuel from the Arctic, the Canadian government could provide certainty to Canadian businesses, and ensure communities are ready, and industry remains competitive”, said Andrew Dumbrille, Senior Specialist, Sustainable Shipping at WWF Canada.

To date, Russia has considered a ban on use of HFO in the Arctic as a “last resort”. While this appears to be still the case, one of the biggest users of HFO in the Arctic, Russian state-owned shipping company Sovcomflot has spoken openly about the need to move away from oil-based fuels, and marine bunker fuel supplier Gazpromneft expects to halt fuel oil use from 2025. Significantly, in August 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto made a joint statement on the need to move to cleaner ships’ fuels, such as LNG in the Arctic. Furthermore, Russia has also announced its intention to massively increase the volumes of cargoes transported on the Northern Sea Route – setting itself a target of 80 million tonnes by 2024, of which 40% would be LNG.

“During the past couple of years the Clean Arctic Alliance has worked very actively promoting alternative fuels in Russia, and finally we are seeing some serious movement towards a HFO free Arctic”, says Alexey Knizhnikov, Oil & Gas Programme Leader at WWF Russia. “We  are seeing more and more support for the use of alternative bunker fuels from both Government agencies and industry. An additional factor that would result in a faster switch from HFO to an alternative such as liquified natural gas (LNG) – would be to use LNG as an energy source for Russian arctic settlements, instead of coal and oil.  So while Russia has not yet supported a ban on HFO fuel in the Arctic, we believe it is arguably very well placed to lead the exodus from heavy fuel oils”.

For more information, see our paper Heavy Fuel Oil use in the IMO Polar Code Arctic by Russian-flagged Ships, 2015.

“Nearly a decade has passed since the Arctic Council published its Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), identifying that an oil spill is the greatest threat to the Arctic from shipping”, concluded Dr Prior. “Until a ban on HFO is in place, this threat remains. With climate change driving the retreat of sea ice extent along the Northern Sea Route, Arctic nations are expecting major expansion in shipping in the region, and major shipping companies are running test voyages to check its viability for moving goods between Asia and Europe. It’s imperative that heavy fuel oil is banned before any further expansion occurs. We call on the shipping industry to heed AMSA’s call to reduce severe risks to the Arctic marine environment. The proposed ban is a major step towards reducing this risk.”



Dave Walsh, Communications Advisor, HFO-Free Arctic Campaign, [email protected], +34 691 826 764

Learn More about MEPC73:


Further reading:

See also: Six briefing papers on the use of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic, prepared by Bryan Comer PhD, The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), for the Clean Arctic Alliance. These papers look at HFO use by flag state, by ship type, by shipowner, and looks in more depth at HFO use by cruise ships and by fishing vessels in the IMO Polar Code Arctic, 2015, and use by of HFO by Russian vessels in the Arctic


About Heavy Fuel Oil

Heavy fuel oil is a dirty and polluting fossil fuel that powers ships throughout our seas and oceans – accounting for 80% of marine fuel used worldwide. 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.

The Arctic is under pressure – climate change is fuelling temperature rises double the rate of further south. As sea ice melts 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.

Already banned in Antarctic waters, if HFO is spilled in cold polar waters, it breaks down slowly, proving almost impossible to clean up. A HFO spill would have long-term devastating effects on Arctic indigenous communities, livelihoods and the marine ecosystems they depend upon. HFO is also a greater source of harmful emissions of air pollutants, such as sulphur oxide, and particulate matter, including black carbon, than alternative fuels such as distillate fuel and liquefied natural gas (LNG). 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 at lower latitudes, such as in the tropics (see infographic: Responding to Arctic Shipping Oil Spills: Risks and Challenges).


About the Clean Arctic Alliance

The following not-for-profit organisations form the Clean Arctic Alliance, which is committed to a ban on HFO as marine fuel in the Arctic:

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

More more information visit


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