IMO Member States Must Back Ban on Heavy Fuel Oil from Arctic Shipping

HFO Free Arctic

IMO Member States Must Back Ban on Heavy Fuel Oil from Arctic Shipping

London, 9th April 2018:- As a meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee opens today in London (MEPC72), the Clean Arctic Alliance called on IMO member states to support a proposal to ban heavy fuel oil (HFO) from Arctic shipping.

The proposal, co-sponsored by Finland, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the US, calls for a ban on HFO, and is one of several papers on HFO use in the Arctic to be discussed at MEPC as it considers “development of measures to reduce risks of use and carriage of heavy fuel oil as fuel by ships in Arctic waters”.

“The Arctic is under pressure – with climate change driving unseasonably high temperatures and extensive sea ice melt, IMO member states must act now to protect the region from the risk of heavy fuel oil spills and the damaging impacts of black carbon emissions. As a ban on the use and carriage of HFO as marine fuel in Arctic waters is the simplest and most effective mechanism for achieving this, the Clean Arctic Alliance commends the eight IMO member states that have co-sponsored a proposal calling for such a ban – and we urge other countries to support the proposal for during this week’s MEPC meeting,” 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.

At its July 2017 meeting (MEPC71), the IMO agreed to embark on a body of work aimed at mitigating the risks of HFO. The Clean Arctic Alliance welcomed the move, emphasising that a ban on the use and carriage as fuel by ships operating in the Arctic is the simplest and most effective way to mitigate the effects of HFO.

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 (See also: Five briefing papers on the use of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic).

The Arctic is under pressure – climate change is fuelling high winter temperatures and driving sea ice melt, opening up Arctic waters to shipping. As the sea ice recedes, 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).


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

Arctic Indigenous Attendees at MEPC72

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.

Clean Arctic Alliance Side Event at MEPC72

The Clean Arctic Alliance is hosting a side-event, sponsored by the Clean Shipping Coalition, 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. Note, to attend the side events, IMO registration is required.

Speakers include:

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

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


What to expect from MEPC72:

The agenda of MEPC 72, which runs from 9-13 April at the IMO HQ in London, includes an item on the “Development of measures to reduce risks of use and carriage of heavy fuel oil as fuel by ships in Arctic waters” (IMO media briefing). A number of papers have been submitted from member states and NGOs to inform discussions.

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. 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 in the Arctic. However, to date, Russia has not supported a ban, and while this appears to still be 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 the Canadian government 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.”


Further Reading

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 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.

Inside Climate: Shipping’s Thick Fuel Oil Puts the Arctic at Risk. Could It Be Banned?

More Clean Arctic Alliance publications on heavy fuel oil in the Arctic can be downloaded hereplus some useful infographics, and our Frequently Asked Questions can be found here.


International Support for a Ban:

100 shipping companies, cruise operators, ports, businesses, explorers, non-governmental organizations, writers and politicians have put their name to the Arctic Commitment, an ambitious civil society initiative calling for a 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 view the text of the Arctic Commitment text its signatories, which includes writer George Monbiot, IKEA, German and Icelandic ports, Lindblad Expeditions, UNEP Patron of the Oceans and polar swimmer Lewis Pugh, and polar explorers Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft, Sir Ranuph Fiennes, Pen Hadow and Alain Hubert, 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 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, 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