Pre MEPC72 Media Briefing regarding heavy fuel oil use by ships in the Arctic.

HFO Free Arctic

Clean Arctic Alliance

Pre MEPC72 Media Briefing regarding heavy fuel oil use by ships in the Arctic

6 April 2018


Where: IMO HQ, London

When: 9-13 April, 2018

What: Progress towards a ban on heavy fuel oil as ship fuel in the Arctic

Who: Main players are Arctic states: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, United States, but also Germany, Netherlands and New Zealand.



Following agreement at the July 2017 meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC71), the IMO is embarking on a body of work aimed at mitigating the risks of heavy fuel oil (HFO). This move was welcomed by the Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of non-governmental organisations calling for a ban on the use and carriage of HFO as fuel in the Arctic – as the simplest and most effective way to mitigate its effects.


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).

See also: Five 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 flag state, ship type, shipowner, cruise ships, fishing vessels in the IMO Polar Code Arctic, 2015.


What to expect from MEPC72:

The agenda of MEPC 72, which runs from 9-13 April at IMO HQ in London, includes discussion on reducing the risks posed by HFO. In addition, a number of papers have been submitted from member states and NGOs “on the development of measures to reduce risks of use and carriage of heavy fuel oil as fuel by ships in Arctic waters”.


While NGOs cannot disclose the contents of these papers, on March 13th, Foresight Climate and Energy Business reported that one paper, co-sponsored by Finland, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the US, calls for a ban on HFO by 2021. On March 20th, Radio Canada International published a story, Canada moves to dilute Finnish proposal to ban dirty fuels in the Arctic, quoting from the MEPC paper:


“A single HFO spill could have devastating and lasting effects on fragile Arctic marine and coastal environments,” the Finnish proposal says. “In addition, Arctic shipping is projected to continue to rise, thus increasing the risk of a spill. For these reasons, the ban on HFO should be implemented as soon as possible, and any delay in implementation of the HFO ban by eligible ships should be short-lived.”


Russia, Canada and Denmark have all supported IMO work to consider ways to mitigate the risks associated with HFO.  However, to date, Russia has not supported a ban on use of HFO in the Arctic, and while this appears to be still the case, the Clean Arctic Alliance notes that a Russian state-owned shipping company Sovcomflot is speaking 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.


Denmark has not yet made public a formal position on a HFO ban in the Arctic (this appears due to ongoing, but unconcluded consultation with Greenland). Canada has previously supported a “phase down” on HFO in a joint Trudeau/Obama announcement in December 2016, and proposed work to mitigate the risks of HFO at MEPC71 in 2017, however this position appears to have changed, and for now remains unclear. In a Canadian Press story published on April 5th, Canada not on board plan to ban ‘dirty fuel’ use on Arctic shipping routes, Andrew Dumbrille of WWF, a Clean Arctic Alliance member, criticises Canada for ‘“sitting on their hands”’.


The article says that “Canada, however, wants a delay. It joined the Marshall Islands — one of the most popular places in the world for shipping companies to register their vessels — to submit a request for things to be slowed down until further study on the economic and other impacts of such a ban on Arctic communities can be completed.”


“Dumbrille said 2021 is three years away — plenty of time to develop a plan to get rid of “the dirtiest, the cheapest, the bottom of the barrel fuel on the planet” without placing a burden on northern communities”


Arctic Indigenous Attendees at MEPC72

Several Arctic indigenous representatives will be in London to demand the creation of a consistent indigenous representation to the IMO, and also to explain why shipping issues related to climate change and environmental protection are important to Arctic communities. They will attend the IMO meetings as part of NGO delegations, take part in side events and plan to  meet with the IMO Secretary General of the IMO. All are available to meet media.


  • Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Canada, Environmental, Cultural and Human Rights Advocate
  • Verner Wilson, Alaska, Friends of the Earth, formerly with the Bristol Bay Native Association
  • Austin Ahmasuk, Alaska, Kawerak, Inc. (Bering Straits regional non-profit)
  • Eduard Zdor, Russian Federation, former director of the Chukotka Marine Mammal Hunters Association


From 1330-1400, Monday, 9 April, Verner Wilson, Austin Ahmusak and Eduard Zdor will speak at a side event at the IMO, Arctic indigenous voices: Climate change, new shipping routes and solutions for mitigation and adaptation.


Side Event at MEPC72


The Clean Arctic Alliance is organising a side-event at MEPC72 on Tuesday, 10 April at 1745: The Climate Crisis: A message from the Arctic. The aim is to increase awareness among IMO delegates about the local and global consequences of the current changes taking place in the Arctic, and to demonstrate the necessity for IMO to agree an ambitious strategy to reduce greenhouse gases from shipping globally and a regional ban on HFO in the Arctic.


The event will consist of a panel presentation involving four short 5-7 minute presentations followed by a reception. More details in the side event brochure.

Speakers include:

  • Science: Dirk Notz, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology
  • Indigenous voice: Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Environmental, Cultural and Human Rights Advocate
  • Shipping industry: Jørn Henriksen, Hurtigruten
  • Non-governmental: Faig Abbasov, Transport & Environment and Clean Shipping Coalition


The event will be moderated by Jytte Guteland, Member of the European Parliament.


International Support for a Ban:


More than 90 shipping companies, cruise operators, ports, businesses, explorers, non-governmental organizations and politicians have put their name to the Arctic Commitment, an ambitious civil society initiative calling for ban on heavy fuel oil (HFO) from Arctic shipping, since its launch in Tromsø in January 2017.


Conceived by the Clean Arctic Alliance and expedition cruise ship operator Hurtigruten, the Arctic Commitment aims to protect Arctic communities and ecosystems from the

risks posed by the use of heavy fuel oil, and calls on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to ban its use and carriage as fuel by Arctic shipping.


To read the text the Arctic Commitment text and view the list of signatories, including IKEA, German and Icelandic ports, Lindblad Expeditions, UNEP Patron of the Oceans and polar swimmer Lewis Pugh,  please visit the Arctic Commitment webpage.


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, Ecology and Development Foundation ECODES, 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 Europe, Stand.Earth, Transport & Environment and WWF.


More more information visit



Contact regarding any of the above activities:


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