Call to Ban Heavy Fuel Oil in Iceland’s Waters

Let's get Heavy Fuel Oil out of the Arctic

Call to Ban Heavy Fuel Oil in Iceland’s Waters

Reykjavík, 6 June 2019:- Responding to a proposal from Iceland’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (Umhverfis- og auðlindaráðuneytið, for a new regulation on the use of fuel oil with more than 0.1% sulphur content for ships operating in its territorial waters [1], Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance said:

“The Clean Arctic Alliance welcomes Iceland’s plan to ban the use of fuel oils with more than 0.1% sulphur content from use as shipping fuel from its waters. While this prohibition will lower emissions of sulphur oxides, and particulate matter content of emissions and protect Iceland’s territorial waters beyond international requirements [2], and could potentially reduce heavy fuel oil (HFO) use and black carbon emissions too, we believe that Iceland should completely ban HFO use and carriage as fuel in its territorial waters, for the following reasons:

  1. The risks associated with a spill of heavy fuel oil within Iceland’s territorial waters will not be fully addressed by a prohibition on the use of fuels with a sulphur content > 0.1%, since some vessels will continue to use HFO and will install scrubbers to reduce the sulphur content of the emissions; and it is also possible that some vessels may opt to use low sulphur heavy fuel or blends of fuels that meet the 0.1% requirement, but are still mixed with HFOs.
  2. Furthermore, it should be recognised that a switch to < 0.1% sulphur content fuels will reduce black carbon emissions, but not eliminate them. A ban on HFO use and carriage, along with the installation of a diesel particulate filter would achieve significant reductions in the black carbon emissions (>90% black carbon reductions).
  3. Iceland has already backed a ban on HFO from Arctic Waters: At MEPC 72 in April 2018, a strongly-worded 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 [3].



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

Árni Finnsson, Iceland Nature Conservation Association, [email protected], +354 551 2279 / 897 2437


See also: Árni Finnsson, chairman of the Icelandic Nature Conservation Association, talks about climate issues and burning black oil in the Arctic for a thorough interview.

Now is Iceland banning the burning of crude oil in its territorial waters as of the beginning of the year, right?

“It’s not technically correct to ban the burning of crude oil. It is setting very low limits for sulfur and sulfur content of crude oil. By setting these limits on sulfur, it will be harder for the operator to burn heavy fuel oil. Eimskip and Samskip have plans to use cleaning technology, filters to clean the sulfur from the fire, unfortunately. This will be better but in this way they will continue to use heavy fuel  oil. ”

[1] Government of Iceland, Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (Umhverfis- og auðlindaráðuneytið) The use of heavy fuel oil will be prohibited within Iceland’s territorial waters Notkun svartolíu verði bönnuð innan landhelgi Íslands

Clean Arctic Alliance note: While this press release claims that “black oil (svartolíu) will be prohibited in Iceland’s waters”, Iceland is not announcing a ban heavy fuel outright, but rather a prohibition on the use fuel oil with more than 0.1% sulphur content.

[2] Under MARPOL Convention Annex VI

[3] Clean Arctic Alliance Hails IMO Move to Ban Heavy Fuel Oil From Arctic Shipping


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. (See infographic: Responding to Arctic Shipping Oil Spills: Risks and Challenges).

At MEPC 72 in April 2018, a strongly-worded 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 for a ban, 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.

At MEPC 73 in October 2018, support came from Austria, Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Poland and the UK, for the proposal for a ban to be sent to a Pollution Prevention and Response subcommittee (PPR 6, February 18-22, 2018), for development, along with a draft impact assessment methodology for assessing the impact of a HFO ban on Arctic ecosystems, Indigenous local communities and economies to be finalised. Work commenced on defining what types of fuel will be banned and how they will be banned.


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.

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