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Arctic Heavy Fuel Oil Debate Continues

Published Oct 24, 2014 8:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

Arctic states and Arctic Council observer states must step up at their meeting next week to address the shortfall in Arctic shipping rules, says environmental organization WWF. The states should show their determination to act as a group in strengthening the Polar Code, rules being negotiated for polar shipping. 

“The Code still needs a lot of work,” says WWF shipping expert Simon Walmsley. “While the negotiations made progress on some issues, they have so far failed to address other pressing matters such as a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic.”

Heavy fuel oil is currently used to fuel ships operating in the Arctic and is transported for onshore usage, accidents can result in very polluting spills devastating local environments. The use and carriage of heavy fuel oil is already banned in the Antarctic, but not in the Arctic. Tens of thousands of tons of heavy fuel oil have been spilled from a single ship in previous accidents.

Other current omissions from the code include:
•    The environmental and climatic impact of ship air pollution including black carbon emissions is not addressed
•    The prevention of the introduction of non-native/invasive species through ballast water discharges and hull fouling is not addressed in a specific polar context
•    The impact on marine animals of underwater noise is not addressed

“Ensuring that the omitted issues are addressed in the future development of the Polar Code should be a priority for the Arctic Council,” says Clive Tesar of WWF’s Global Arctic Programme. “Of course having better environmental rules is good for the Arctic states and the Indigenous peoples’ organizations. This is also an opportunity for Arctic Council observer states that are also world shipping leaders to step up and show that they are serious when they talk about protection of the Arctic environment.”

WWF expects that the council will take the opportunity presented by a Senior Arctic Officials meeting this week in Yellowknife to discuss an effective response to the Polar Code shortcomings.