European Parliament Calls for Arctic Ban on use of Dirty Shipping Fuel

The European Parliament’s call to ban the use of the world’s dirtiest fuel in the Arctic should be met with swift action from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), campaign groups have said.

The Parliament voted earlier this month to pass its Resolution on the Arctic. It calls on member states to act to facilitate the ban on the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO).

Heavy fuel oil (HFO), already banned from the Antarctic, is cheap yet dirty. It Produces high levels of air and climate pollutants that impact human health and speed up ice melt.

The Resolution also looks to ban the transport of HFO in vessels navigating the Arctic seas through the IMO’s MARPOL Convention to prevent pollution from ships.

The burning of HFO produces black carbon particles that absorb more radiation, thereby contributing to the warming of the planet and accelerating ice melt.

Although the resolution is a non-legislative document, Dr Sian Prior, lead advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, said that the decision sent a “clear message” to the IMO.

The Alliance is made up of several not-for-profits pushing for the phase out of HFO as marine fuel in Arctic waters in the next three years.

“By putting a ban in place by 2020, the IMO has an opportunity to reduce both the impact of oil spills and the levels of pollutants which drive the melting of Arctic snow and ice,” he added.

Brussels-based group Transport & Environment (T&E) reiterated the call on the IMO to deal with the topic at the next meeting of its marine environment protection committee in London in July.

The meeting will be an “important occasion” to start formal discussions on addressing risk associated with the fuel, according to Faig Abbasov, shipping policy officer at T&E.

“Today’s vote should be a clear signal for EU member states to put heavy fuel oil on the IMO’s agenda in its next meeting,” he added.

A report from the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation also points out that heavy fuel oil spills are among the most difficult to combat.

The Federation has responded to over 750 incidents involving oil or chemical spills worldwide to date.

The viscous nature of HFO means that it is does not readily dissipate or degrade naturally, particularly in cold waters.

As HFO accounts for three-quarter of all fuel used by Arctic-going ships, there are concerns that a significant spill would put fragile polar habitats at more risk.

Niall Sargent  is a multimedia journalist and researcher on environmental issues

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