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IMO facing call to adopt HFO ban in Arctic

A delay on heavy fuel oil use in the Arctic Sea edges closer with widespread support. But a proposal for a five-year delay divides governments and NGOs. Russia also continues to have concerns about the large financial implications it believes the ban will have

The US, Norway, Finland and other states are backing a heavy fuel oil ban in the Arctic, but with a five-year delay for specific ships

PROPOSALS seen by Lloyd’s List to the International Maritime Organization’s sub-committee on pollution suggests a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic Sea is edging closer.

Denmark, Finland, Norway and the US are among a group of countries will propose a ban on at the committee’s meeting next month, but their call for a five-year delay for some ships may complicate international negotiations.

The sub-committee is a technical body where much of the legwork for the development of rules and regulations happens. But its decisions are not irreversible and the IMO’s supreme environmental authority, the Marine Environment Protection Committee, is the group that has the final say.

Eleven countries are proposing an HFO ban on all shipping in Arctic waters, though vessels involved in search rescue operations would be exempt.

A group of non-governmental organisations, including the Clean Shipping Coalition and the WWF, have come out in support of this multinational push for a ban, though their own document. The ban on the HFO is also endorsed by Arctic indigenous communities, leaders of whom have taken to the IMO during the past few years to voice their support.

However, these governments and NGOs disagree on a major asking point: the 11 countries want a five-year delay in the implementation of the ban for vessels that adhere to specific rules around fuel tank protections.

One exemption would apply to ships delivered after August 2010, that are meant to have fuel tanks inside double hulls to prevent oil spills. The second exemption applies for the smaller vessels operating under the Polar Code, which lays out the rules for vessels travelling in polar waters.

The NGOs argued that delays and exemptions would “only prolong the threat of an HFO spill in the Arctic”.

Data from the International Council on Clean Transportation, a US-based NGO, suggests that around a quarter of the 889 HFO-fuelled vessels that operated in Polar Code regions in 2015 would be eligible for that delay.

Those vessels were responsible for 32% of the HFO used and 40% of the HFO carried as fuel in Arctic waters in 2015, according to the ICCT.

“Ships qualifying for the five-year exemption could continue using HFO and carrying HFO for use until 2027, at a minimum. In the meantime, the volume of shipping traffic in the Arctic is increasing and between 2015 and 2017 there was a 57% increase in the volume of HFO use by ships in the Arctic,” the NGOs said in their proposal.

Years of pressure spearheaded by NGOs at the IMO are bringing the ban on the use and carriage for use of HFO in the Arctic Sea closer. The prohibition already exists in the Antarctic Sea.

While the ban has significant political backing, its exact application and the potential exemptions will likely attract much attention during the next couple of years.

Russia, one of the most important Arctic shipping nations with an intense focus on the development of liquefied natural gas exports from the region, argued in its own proposal that based on the impact assessment it conducted. developing an HFO ban in the Arctic would be “impractical”.

“The results of the impact assessment endorsed the concerns that the ban would negatively affect the local communities and industries of the region, while the potential benefits of the ban remain unclear on account of national measures to reduce the risk of HFO spills,” the country claimed in a proposal seen by Lloyd’s List.

The assessment investigated the impact on the investment Russia has made to deal with potential HFO spill and on the export of mineral resources from the Russian Arctic.

Russia claimed fuels, transportation and other costs would increase by $630.2m annually, excluding initial costs for retrofitting ships and infrastructure investment losses.

Russia, however, recognised that given that the IMO has decided to work towards an HFO ban it should consider several options, such as the exclusion of search and rescue vessels the option for national administrations to decide to exclude certain vessels more than 10 years old.

While the eleven countries want a five-year delay for those vessels complying with certain regulations, Russia backs the complete exemption of those compliant vessels from the ban.

“The Russian Federation considers that the factors above would allow mitigation, to the maximum extent, the negative adverse impacts of the ban to local communities and industries of the area,” it said.

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