IMO Moves Toward Arctic Heavy Fuel Oil Ban

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and its member states have agreed on the draft amendments to MARPOL Annex I to ban the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by ships in Arctic waters on and after July 1, 2024.

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The draft amendments will be submitted to the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 76) to be held in October with a view to approval and circulation for adoption at MEPC 77  in spring 2021.

The prohibition would cover the use and carriage for use as fuel of oils having a density at 15°C higher than 900 kg/mor a kinematic viscosity at 50°C higher than 180 mm2/s.

Ships engaged in securing the safety of ships, or in search and rescue operations, and ships dedicated to oil spill preparedness and response would be exempted.

In line with the draft amendments, ships that meet certain construction standards with regard to oil fuel tank protection would need to comply on and after July 1, 2029.

“A party to MARPOL with a coastline bordering Arctic waters may temporarily waive the requirements for ships flying its flag while operating in waters subject to that party’s sovereignty or jurisdiction, up to July 1, 2029,” the IMO said.

NGOs led by the Clean Arctic Alliance and Indigenous groups cautiously acknowledged the progress on regulating the use and carriage of HFO in the Arctic.

However, the NGOs denounced the inclusion of loopholes in the text that mean the ban will not come into effect until 2029, leaving the Arctic “exposed to the growing threat of HFO spills for close to another decade.”

“While the IMO has made some progress on controlling heavy fuel oil use and carriage as fuel in the Arctic, it is outrageous that Member States are prepared to accept another decade of threats from HFO spills to Arctic communities, the environment and wildlife,” said Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of 18 non-governmental organisations.

“With the climate crisis already having significant impacts across the Arctic region and routes opening up to increased ship traffic, IMO Member States must take a more ambitious stance later this year, by agreeing to rid the Arctic of HFO in 2024.”

Meanwhile, the Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) established a correspondence group to further develop draft guidelines on measures to reduce risks of use and carriage of HFO as fuel by ships in Arctic waters.

The draft guidelines would cover ship operation, ship construction and heavy fuel oil bunkering, infrastructure and communication, enhancement of heavy fuel oil spill preparedness, early detection and response, and drills and training.

PPR acknowledged a study concluding that fuel oil aromatic content is a key parameter for black carbon emissions. However, the sub-committee invited member organizations to conduct more research, and it was agreed to establish a Correspondence Group to PPR 8.

The International Standardization Organization (ISO) said it was in the process of monitoring properties of very low sulphur fuel oil and high sulphur fuel oil and would provide feedback on their performance. ISO will examine the possibility to add a further measure to provide an approximate indication as to whether a fuel is more paraffinic or aromatic, based on the characteristics already included in the ISO 8217 standard.

“The Sub-Committee established a correspondence group to advance the development of a standardized sampling, conditioning, and measurement protocol, including a traceable reference method and an uncertainty analysis, taking into account the three most appropriate Black Carbon measurement methods (light absorption filter smoke number (FSN);  photo-acoustic spectroscopy (PAS); and laser induced incandescence (LII)), to make accurate and traceable (comparable) measurements of Black Carbon emissions; and investigate the linkages between the measurement systems and policy options,” the IMO said.

The NGOs criticized further delay on an action to reduce black carbon emissions from shipping that will affect the Arctic, despite the IMO and its Members working on this issue for nine years.

An initial examination of the draft regulation by the Clean Arctic Alliance suggests, based on current Arctic shipping levels, the loopholes mean over three-quarters of the HFO used in the Arctic could be exempt or delayed from implementing the regulation, which equates to more than two-thirds of the HFO carried on board vessels as fuel.

“Of further concern is that these loopholes will cause an increase in HFO use and carriage in the Arctic,” the alliance pointed out.

Between 2015 and 2017 there was a 30% increase in the numbers of ships operating on HFO, and the loopholes will mean that as older ships (covered by the regulation) are replaced with new ships with double-hulls or protected fuel tanks (not covered by the regulation until 2029), so the amount of HFO used and carried in the Arctic will increase, the alliance insisits.

“IMO Member States must now step up to their obligations to pursue additional safeguards; if HFO continues to be burned in the Arctic until June 2029, Arctic coastal communities will be subjected to the risk of HFO spills and higher levels of air pollution – so it is in the best interest of Arctic States to be expedient in phasing out HFO in both domestic and international Arctic waters sooner,” added Prior.

“In the coming months, the IMO and its member states will be considering measures requiring ships to switch away from HFO and move to distillate or other cleaner fuels. ”