Clean Arctic Alliance Welcomes MSC Decision to Avoid Arctic Shipping Route

Let's get Heavy Fuel Oil out of the Arctic

Clean Arctic Alliance Welcomes MSC Decision to Avoid Arctic Shipping Route

London, Monday, October 21, 2019:- Responding to the announcement that shipping company MSC “will not explore or use the Northern Sea Route between Europe and Asia for container shipping” and that it believes that shipping lines should focus on reducing the environmental impact of existing shipping trade routes”, Clean Arctic Alliance lead advisor Dr Sian Prior said [1]:

The Clean Arctic Alliance welcomes MSC’s decision to avoid using the Northern Sea Route to ship goods between Asia and Europe. While MSC have understandably come under fire for their environmental record elsewhere, we note that some shipping companies appear to be thinking about the bigger picture, by recognising how a ‘surge in container shipping traffic in the Arctic’ could have a detrimental impact on the environment.” [2]

“It is too early to tell whether this is the beginning of a new trend in the shipping industry. In recent weeks we have seen shipping company Oldendorff Carriers claiming the environmental benefits of using the Northern Sea Route, while some companies, such as COSCO and Maersk, are clearly expanding their operations in the Arctic. However, MSC’s announcement demonstrates that some shipping companies appear to be taking their environmental responsibilities seriously.”

“The Clean Arctic Alliance believes that current environmental protection regulation is not adequate to address the risks of international shipping operating in Arctic waters. As a first step, we are calling for an International Maritime Organization ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in Arctic waters and the introduction of measures to reduce black carbon emissions by switching to distillate fuels. Any decision by industry which reduces the risks to the Arctic, including by choosing to not use Arctic sea routes, is to be welcomed.”

“While using the Northern Sea Route has long been touted as a faster, or lower cost option for shipping companies, with consequential lower carbon emissions, there is clearly an emerging realisation that the risks of a heavy fuel oil spill or the impact of increased black carbon emissions in the Arctic, and the consequences on our climate and global environment are unacceptable. The Clean Arctic Alliance hopes that the decision adopted by MSC – and others, like Hapag-Lloyd and CMA CGM – will send a clear message to the shipping industry that it is necessary to support environmentally responsible decision-making when making decisions about future routes and operations.”

When the IPCC press conference to launch the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) was released on September 25th, its Summary for Policymakers included recognition that shipping activity in the Arctic has increased over the past two decades, and highlights the need for urgent action to ensure that environmental regulation keeps pace with the increasing interest in Arctic shipping routes [3].

“The IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate makes clear that an International Maritime Organization ban on the world’s dirtiest fuel – heavy fuel oil – is imperative if we are to diminish the risks to the Arctic environment from increased shipping,” said Prior. “According to the IPCC, if we can reduce our emissions and keep global warming to 1.5 degrees or under, we will only see an ice-free Arctic in the month of September – when the sea ice minimum occurs – possibly only once in a hundred years.”

“Clearly, the shipping industry must act now to play its part in keeping below 1.5 degrees: ending the use of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic to reduce black carbon emissions is one clear step towards achieving this. ‘There is an urgent need to act and to act at scale, and to take action across all elements of society – and that includes the maritime sector.”



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


[1] MSC rules out Arctic exploration on environmental concerns

Major shipping companies Hapag-Lloyd and MSC Step Away From Arctic Shipping

Hapag-Lloyd Ships Will Not Use Arctic Sea Routes

[2] MSC’s environmental travails: MSC Pays $630,000 in Penalties for California Air Quality Violations

Wetlands International: Open letter to the Mediterranean Shipping Company from conservation organisations: Where is the compensation for pollution of the Wadden Sea?

MSC Zoe: Islands hit as 270 containers fall off ship

(MSC) Cruise ship crashes into tourist boat in Venice, injuring five peopl


[3] September 2019: IPCC SROCC: NGOs Call for heavy fuel oil ban to cut Arctic shipping emissions


Further reading:

August 2019: Clean Arctic Alliance Asks COSCO to Come Clean On Arctic Fuel Choice


June 2019, High North News: Chinese Shipping Company COSCO To Send Record Number of Ships Through Arctic


September 2018: Clean Arctic Alliance Asks COSCO to Speak Up On Arctic Fuel Choice


August 2018: Clean Arctic Alliance challenges Maersk on Arctic Shipping Fuel


August 2018: Clean Arctic Alliance challenges Canada’s Fednav on Arctic Shipping Fuel


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. 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.

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).

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.

In April 2018, the IMO agreed to move forward on developing a ban on heavy fuel oil from Arctic waters.

Plans to develop a ban on heavy fuel oil (HFO) from Arctic shipping, along with an assessment of the impact of such a ban, were agreed upon during the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC72). The meeting directed a sub-committee (PPR6) to develop a ban on heavy fuel oil use and carriage for use by ships in the Arctic, “on the basis of an assessment of the impacts” and “on an appropriate timescale”

This followed agreement in July 2017 for MEPC to consider “development of measures to reduce risks of use and carriage of heavy fuel oil as fuel by ships in Arctic waters”. The Clean Arctic Alliance also welcomed this move, stating 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.

Further reading on HFO and Black Carbon

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.

Danish Eco Council Report Cleaner Shipping: Focus on air pollution, technical solutions and regulation

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


The Arctic Commitment

Launched at the Arctic Frontiers conference in January 2017 by the Clean Arctic Alliance – a coalition of non-governmental organisations – 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 marine fuel by Arctic shipping. An HFO ban has already been in place in Antarctic waters, since 2011. In July 2017, the Clean Arctic Alliance welcomed action being taken by IMO member states to start work to identify measures to mitigate the risks of HFO spills, during the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting (MEPC71).


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



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