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IMO committee approves ban on heavy ship fuel in the Arctic


LONDON – In a decision criticized by environmental groups for not going far enough, the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) today approved a proposed ban on the use of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic region as of July 1, 2024. Such a ban already exists in the Antarctic region.

The draft regulations were described by the Clean Arctic Alliance coalition as “outrageous” as they included exemptions and waivers which meant a complete HFO ban would not come into effect before mid-2029.

“In its current form, the ban will achieve only a minimal reduction in HFO use and carriage by ships in the Arctic in mid-2024,” noted Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance. He added that as a result “a full three-quarters of the ships using HFO today will be eligible for exemption.”

Under the new regulations, the central Arctic coastal States – Russia, Norway, Denmark (Greenland), Canada and the United States – will have the option of issuing waivers to their own flagged ships while they are operating in their own waters. Among Canadian carriers in the Arctic, Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping (NEAS) (our photo) had voiced especially strong objections to rapidly imposing an HFO ban that would have increased shipping costs which would need to be passed onto customers.

 “Any benefits of the IMO decision today will be cancelled out by projected increases in shipping, leaving Indigenous and local communities facing larger risks and impacts in the future,” said Andrew Dumbrille, Senior Sustainable Shipping Specialist at WWF Canada.

“An HFO spill in our Arctic waters, where our people have survived and depended on for thousands of years, would devastate our subsistence way of life,” said the representative of Inuit communities in the Bering Strait region.

The proposed measures are expected to be formally adopted at the next MEPC session scheduled for June 2021.