Shipping companies are under pressure to phase out use of heavy fuels ahead of a potential ban on their use in the Arctic in the coming years.
The International Maritime Organisation has approved an environmental review of the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by ships in the Arctic. Already banned in Antarctica, HFO is a dense and viscous by-product of fuel refining processes.
Oil spills or leaks would be severely toxic, and devastating to flora, fauna and indigenous communities because of the long time the oil takes to break down in cold water. The risks to fragile Arctic ecosystems could soar as more polar sea lanes become accessible because of climate change.
A Canadian proposal unanimously adopted at the IMO’s marine environmental protection committee mandates a review of mitigating measures for HFO use, to begin in April 2018. No calls for a ban on HFOs have been formally put on the agenda but “at this early stage, nothing can be ruled in or out,” an IMO spokesperson said.