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MEPC 73 Kicks Off with Pressing Issues on the Agenda

The International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 73) gathers today in London to discuss several initiatives including the ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic and establishing of an experience-building phase (EBP) for the 2020 sulphur cap.

Heavy fuel oil (HFO) is back on the agenda this week, when MEPC 73 will examine an impact assessment methodology ahead of sending the “Scope of Work”, which sets out the work to be done to reduce the risks associated with the “use and carriage of heavy fuel oil as fuel by ships in Arctic waters” including the proposal for a ban, to a sub-committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR6) in February 2019.

The Clean Arctic Alliance called on member states to “renew their commitment” so that a ban on the use and carriage of polluting heavy fuel oil from Arctic shipping can be adopted in 2021.

“IMO member states must be resolute in ensuring that the Arctic ban on heavy fuel oil is developed by 2020, and adopted in 2021, to protect Arctic ecosystems and communities from both the threat of oil spills and the impact of black carbon emissions,” said 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.

“Discussions regarding impact assessments at MEPC73 must support, but not hinder progression towards the ban. In addition, IMO member states have a duty to ensure that Arctic communities are not forced to carry any economic costs associated with a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil.”

The ban is supported by the EU, New Zealand, Norway and the U.S. Canada and Russia have also supported IMO work to consider ways to mitigate the risks associated with HFO, but Canada has yet to take a position on a ban.

One of the biggest users of HFO in the Arctic, Russian state-owned shipping company Sovcomflot has spoken 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. In August 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto made a joint statement on the need to move to cleaner ships’ fuels, such as LNG in the Arctic.

“An additional factor that would result in a faster switch from HFO to an alternative such as liquified natural gas (LNG) – would be to use LNG as an energy source for Russian arctic settlements, instead of coal and oil. So while Russia has not yet supported a ban on HFO fuel in the Arctic, we believe it is arguably very well placed to lead the exodus from heavy fuel oils,” Prior added.

An oil spill is the greatest threat to the Arctic from shipping, especially in light of anticipated expansion of shipping in the region driven by climate change that is driving the retreat of sea ice extent along the Northern Sea Route. The region is particularly fragile as it lacks adequate infrastructure to deal with oil pollution due to its remoteness.

Other issues set to be reviewed by the panel include the recently cosponsored paper by the Bahamas, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Panama, BIMCO, INTERCARGO and INTERTANKO, aimed at setting up EBP, intended as an institutionalized data gathering measure. As indicated, the purpose of the measure would be to provide “greater transparency and detailed information on the compliance situation after January 1, 2020.”

The paper is being drawn in anticipation of a number of challenges with the transition to the 0.50% global fuel oil sulphur limit and potential safety risks resulting from new blends or new fuel types.

In addition, the committee is also set to discuss a global speed limit for ships, aimed at reducing underwater noise, collisions between ships and whales, and reduction of CO2 emissions and air pollution.