MEPC adopts proposal to address risks posed by heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters

Jul 19, 2017

At their July meeting, the Marine Environmental Protection Committee, a committee of the United Nations agency that regulates international shipping, adopted a proposal to address environmental risks heavy fuel oil could pose in the Arctic. Heavy fuel oil is already banned in Antarctic waters.

The Marine Environmental Protection committee met in London the first week in July.
Credit International Maritime Organization

The International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee took up the issue of heavy fuel oil at its meeting earlier this month. The IMO is the United Nations agency charged with regulating international shipping.

Heavy fuel oil is especially viscous fuel oil used mainly in large shipping vessels.  Roughly 40 percent of ships traveling through the Arctic use it, and those ships account for about 75 percent of the fuel going through the area. Environmental groups are generally opposed to heavy fuel oil use. Dillingham’s Verner Wilson III attended the MEPC  meeting with environmental activist group Friends of the Earth.

“This heavy fuel oil could have huge impacts to the marine environment if it’s spilled,” says Wilson. “It’s the most viscous fuel oil, and it is potentially damaging to the arctic environment because it takes a long time to break down. It affects marine mammals and fisheries. Bristol Bay is south of the Arctic Ocean, but our marine mammals travel to the Arctic Ocean, and whatever happens in the Bering Strait affects us ultimately in our subsistence way of life.”

At this meeting the committee adopted a proposal to work toward reducing the risks of using and carrying heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters.

In concrete terms, that means governments and international organizations will submit proposals that will be discussed at MEPC next meeting in April. Proposals could range from non-mandatory guidelines to a complete ban on heavy fuel oil use.

Heavy fuel oil is already banned in Antarctic waters. That ban took full effect in 2016.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.