Clean Arctic Alliance Welcomes IMO Action on Arctic Heavy Fuel Oil Risk

Let's get Heavy Fuel Oil out of the Arctic

Clean Arctic Alliance Welcomes IMO Action on Arctic Heavy Fuel Oil Risk

London, July 7, 2017:- As the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 71) concluded  today, the Clean Arctic Alliance welcomed the support from Member States for a proposal to identify measures which will mitigate the risks posed by the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in Arctic waters, and called on the IMO to work towards a swift conclusion of the work. (1)

The proposal, Measures to Reduce Risks of Use and Carriage of Heavy Fuel Oil as Fuel by Ships in Arctic Waters was proposed by Canada, Finland, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and the US, and supported this week by the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Poland, Singapore, Spain and Sweden. Concrete proposals for measures to reduce the risks of HFO will now be considered by MEPC 72 in April 2018. (2)

“The Clean Arctic Alliance welcomes the recognition by IMO Member States of the risks posed by an HFO spill to local indigenous communities and to the environment, and the broad support from members towards providing the protection required in vulnerable Arctic waters. ”, said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of international non-governmental organisations working for an Arctic phase-out of HFO. “With the Arctic warming at an unprecedented rate, it is imperative that the IMO starts work on developing new measures, including a ban on HFO use in the region, without delay.”

“A ban on the use of HFO and carriage of HFO as fuel is the simplest and easiest measure to enforce which will provide the best protection for the Arctic. “A ban on the use of HFO and carriage of HFO as fuel is the simplest and easiest measure to enforce which will provide the best protection for the Arctic. While this might seem ambitious, a ban can be adopted in 2020, and come into effect 18 months after adoption”, added Prior.

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 HFO spills.

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 fuel and liquid 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. (3)

“Earlier this year, the Arctic sea ice hit a new record – the lowest amount of winter ice since records began, 38 years ago. As this opens up potential for more ship traffic to use the shorter Arctic sea routes to transport cargoes between south-east Asia and Europe, it is vital that the IMO immediately begins working on measures for HFO risk mitigation in the Arctic. Not only will this ensure the adoption and implementation of the highest standards for shipping, it will also help protect the livelihoods of people living in the Arctic, marine wildlife and the ecosystems on which they both depend from the impacts of HFO spills”, concluded Prior.

A number of shipping organisations, including expedition tour operator Hurtigruten, Danish Shipping (Danske Rederier) and the Norwegian Shipowners Association (Norges Rederiforbund) have already called for a ban on the use of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic.

“Hurtigruten welcomes any steps towards a ban of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic. It is a huge paradox that the lack of regulations allows shipping companies to bring more pollution, more emissions and intolerable risks to a region that needs less”, said Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam.

“We believe the shipping industry should unite in promoting regulations that will secure sustainable Arctic growth. An important measure is to stop the use of HFO, and not wait until a ban comes into effect”, Skjeldam added.

“The Polar Code encourages ships not to use HFO in the Arctic. Danish Shipping prefers that the recommendation becomes a regulatory requirement as we support a ban on HFO as fuel. It is crucial that a future ban applies to all ships operating in the Arctic independent of their flag. Therefore such a ban should be adopted by IMO. We need to find a balance between economic development and environmental safety and we therefore support initiatives that minimizes the risk of oil spill”, said director Maria Bruun Skipper from Danish Shipping.





  1. MEPC 71 took 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, was discussed during MEPC 71 on Thursday 6th July. There was consensus that the proposed new work was urgent and should be added to the 2018 – 2019 work programme of MEPC. MEPC 72 will consider concrete proposals for measures in April 2018. Once consensus is achieved on the appropriate measures, they will be adopted.
  3. Infographic: Responding to Arctic Shipping Oil Spills: Risks and Challenges



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: