MSC doubles down on avoiding Arctic shipping routes

Swiss shipping major Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) has reaffirmed its commitment to avoiding the Northern Sea Route, including the Northeast and Northwest Passages on environmental grounds.

Image credit: MSC

“As a responsible company, this was an obvious decision for us,” commented MSC CEO Soren Toft.

“MSC will not seek to cut through the melting ice of the Arctic to find a new route for commercial shipping and I consider this a position the whole shipping industry must adopt. Some of our peers have already made the same commitment to put the preservation of the Arctic environment ahead of profits. The Northern Sea Route is neither a quick fix for the current market challenges, nor a viable long-term strategy.”

An expansion of Arctic shipping could increase the emissions of so-called black carbon – physical particles of unburned carbon which can settle on land or ice, as well as compromising air quality and accelerating the shrinkage of Arctic sea ice.

Risks such as navigation incidents, fuel spills, air quality and altering the ecological balance / biodiversity of the marine habitat beneath the surface of the sea also outweigh any commercial opportunities to make a short cut between North America or Europe and eastern Russia or Asia.

The statement comes on the back of last week’s virtual meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s Pollution Prevention and Response Sub-Committee (IMO, PPR 8).

The IMO PPR 8 made a proposal to develop non-binding “goal-based guidelines” to tackling black carbon emissions from ships using heavy fuel oil in the Arctic.

“By proposing a slow, weak and voluntary approach to tackling black carbon emissions, the IMO and its Member States have squandered this week’s golden opportunity to curb shipping’s climate impacts in the Arctic, instead of taking ambitious and urgent action to immediately drive down these emissions,” said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance.  

 “In effect, the planned ‘goal-based guidelines’ proposed during PPR 8 means that each country can take its own approach to reducing black carbon emissions, on its own time-scale, with no requirement for implementation or enforcement if indeed they choose to do anything at all.”

The Clean Arctic Alliance continues to call for a mandatory measure requiring all ships operating in and near to the Arctic to switch to distillate fuels or other cleaner fuels, which result in lower levels of black carbon emissions and allow the use of particulate filters, as happens with road vehicles, to further reduce the black carbon released into the atmosphere.

The alliance believes it necessary for all shipping to move from oil-based fuel to other cleaner fuels or other methods of propulsion.