Clean Arctic Alliance Comment on MV Wakashio Heavy Fuel Oil spill, Mauritius

Let's get Heavy Fuel Oil out of the Arctic

London, August 12, 2020 and updated August 17, 2020:- In response to the July 25th grounding of the Japanese-owned, Panamanian registered, bulk carrier MV Wakashio on the coast of the Republic of Mauritius, and the subsequent leaking of over 1000 tonnes of very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) ,Clean Arctic Alliance lead advisor Dr Sian Prior said:

“Our thoughts and sympathies are with the people of Mauritius who are having to deal with this spill of heavy fuel oil, which is a man-made disaster not of their making. The Clean Arctic Alliance calls on the international community, including Japan, and the ship’s flag-State of Panama, to support France in aiding Mauritius to recover the spilled oil, and to minimise the impact on the Mauritian environment, wildlife and the natural resources on which local communities depend.”

As of August 12 it was reported that almost all of the fuel on board had been removed, after 1,000 tonnes of VLSFO had been released into the sensitive coastal marine environment. VLSFO refers to a fuel oil that contains less than 0.50% sulphur. Due to its viscosity or density, the oil spilled very likely meets the International Maritime Organization’s definition of heavy fuel oil (HFO). Images from the area show the ship’s hull buckling and beginning to crack leading to concerns that it will break up entirely [1,2]. Subsequently on August 16, it was reported that the MV Wakashio has broken apart with 90 tonnes of fuel still on board.

“The MV Wakashio ran aground on the coast of Mauritius while sailing from China to Brazil; the ship and the heavy fuel oil it was carrying had nothing to do with the people of Mauritius”, said Dr Prior. “Serious questions need to be asked – and open and accurate answers given by the ship owners and the flag-State about what went wrong, why this route was chosen, and in particular, how this vessel ended up aground on a reef in a sensitive zone that includes the Blue Bay Marine Park, Iles aux Aigrettes, and the Ramsar site [3]. The fact that this Japanese-owned vessel was flying a Panamanian flag, rather than a Japanese flag can only raise further questions about the current global system of vessel registration and regulation and the use of Flags of Convenience, which has served to obscure responsibility for shipping accidents on numerous occasions.”

“This spill demonstrates the limitations of response operations to cope with heavy fuel oil spills – of bunker fuels or cargoes – even in relatively favourable conditions, and underlines the need for the shipping industry to move away from powering vessels with fuels which pollute the air when they are burned and the ocean when there is an accident. Put simply, the shipping industry must find a way towards an exit from the age of dirty fossil fuel-powered shipping.”

“What is happening in Mauritius is not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of unacceptable behaviour by an industry that routinely puts commercial considerations ahead of safety and the environment. The spill of 100 tonnes of HFO by a similar bulker vessel off the coast of the Solomon Islands in 2019 was devastating for local communities, the health of citizens, and the environment on which they depend. What is occurring in Mauritius is already 10 times larger. Shipping needs to adopt a new safety culture – to protect people, the ocean environment, and itself”, said Prior [3].

On August 29, 2019, during a meeting between Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Mauritian Prime Minister Kumar Jugnauth, Prime Minister Jugnauth “stated his expectation for further support from Japan in such areas as disaster prevention and measures for maritime accidents. [4]”. “The question is, if the MV Wakashio ran aground on July 25, why has it taken Japan more than two weeks to send oil spill expertise?”, asked Prior. [3].

“In the Polar regions, ships are required to identify protected areas on route along with important sites for marine mammals and ensure routes are planned to reduce the risks [5]. The IMO must put in place global regulations for the protection of biodiversity and communities from the risks generated by the shipping industry,” concluded Dr Prior.



Dave Walsh, Communications Advisor, Clean Arctic Alliance [email protected], +34 691 826 764


[1] Annex 1 of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) defines residual fuel (i.e. HFO) as “oils, other than crude oils, having a density at 15°C higher than 900 kg/m3 or a kinematic viscosity at 50°C higher than 180 mm2/s.”

International Maritime Organization: Sulphur 2020 – cutting sulphur oxide emissions

According to industry sources, most Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oils (VLSFOs) are heavy fuel oil (HFO):

“Based on information we obtained from three fuel testing agencies, some 93-95% of such fuels tested in January and part of February this year were above the combined viscosity and density limit, suggesting that the vast majority of 0.5% blends seen so far would be classified as HFO.”

IBIA statement on black carbon and 0.50%S fuel blends at IMO’s PPR 7

Response: Impacts of Black Carbon Emissions from Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oils

[2] Reuters, August 12: Most oil on damaged ship off Mauritius removed, owner says

The Maritime Executive:Global Response to Mauritius Oil Spill Continues

Mauritius: MW Wakashio Oil Spill – Flash Update No. 2 (11 August 2020)

[3] Bunkerspot: IMO joins international efforts to combat Wakashio bunker spill

[4] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan” Japan-Mauritius Summit Meeting, August 29, 2019

[5] The Polar Code, International Maritime Organization, 11.3 Requirements:

“In order to comply [text] above, the master shall consider a route through polar waters, taking into account the following

  1. current information on relevant ships’ routing systems, speed recommendations and vessel traffic services relating to known areas with densities of marine mammals, including seasonal migration areas
  2. national and international designated protected areas along the route”

Further reading:

May 2020: Needed Now, More Than Ever: The Arctic Ban On Heavy Fuel Oil

March 2019: As the Solomon Trader Disaster Shows, 30 Years after Exxon Valdez, Nowhere is Safe from Oil Spills – including the Arctic



Liability for oil spills from bunker tanks is covered by the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, or ‘Bunkers Convention’, which entered into force in 2008. The convention provides the possibility for affected states or organisations to claim compensation, but the level of this compensation is limited and may not be high enough to cover all the costs related to the clean-up of the spill and the loss of local incomes.

International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage (BUNKER)


Banning Heavy Fuel Oil from the Arctic

The Clean Arctic Alliance made up of 19 non-profit organisations, is working for a ban on the use of heavy fuel oil and carriage as fuel by Arctic shipping. 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 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.

The Arctic is under pressure – climate change is fuelling temperature rises double the rate of further south. In recent weeks, we have seen the collapse of Canada’s Milne Ice Shelf on Ellesmere Island, Arctic sea extent heading for record lows, and 38 degrees Celcius north of the Arctic Circle in June 2020, while scientific papers published have suggested the Arctic could be ice free by 2035.

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 in areas that are difficult to reach, and that lack any significant oil spill containment equipment.

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. It isn’t only the impact of a heavy fuel spill that is a concern, 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.

But while we are focussed on the risks to the Arctic, we also believe that the time of HFO is over. The global shipping fleet needs to move forward towards new, zero carbon solutions for propulsion. This will alleviate the threats from spills, as well as beneficial effects for our global climate and the air quality in the areas around shipping ports.

An initial examination by the Clean Arctic Alliance of the draft regulation put forward during meeting of the International Maritime Organization in February 2020 (PPR 7) suggests, based on current Arctic shipping levels, that loopholes in the text could mean over three-quarters of the HFO currently used in the Arctic could be exempt or delayed from implementing the regulation, which equates to more than two-thirds of the HFO carried on board vessels as fuel.

For this reason, the Clean Arctic Alliance is urging all Arctic States to throw their weight behind an effective and immediate ban – without loopholes – on the use and carriage of HFO as fuel by Arctic shipping.

About the Clean Arctic Alliance

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

90 North Unit, Alaska Wilderness League, Bellona, Clean Air Task Force, Green Transition Denmark, 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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