In a resolution, adopted on 31st January by 111 votes to 8, with 1 abstention, Members of the European Parliament’s Committees on Foreign Affairs and Environment says heavy fuel oil (HFO) should be banned from all ships navigating Arctic waters.

If put into force, such a ban would dramatically increase the costs of sailings to Arctic Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Russia, Canada, Alaska and trans-Arctic shipments between Europe and Asia via the Northern Sea Route. Light fuel oil is considerably more expensive than HFO.

For the environment, heavy fuel oil has more negative impact because when burned, emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and black carbon is much higher. A spill with heavy-fuel oil in Arctic waters could cause disastrous consequences for marine life, sea mammals and birds because it emulsifies on the ocean surface and is extremely difficult to clean up. The EU resolution will be put to a vote by the full Parliament on 2nd March.

Unlike other fuels, heavy fuel oil doesn’t evaporate. Instead, it combines with seawater and actually expands in volume. It also sinks and sticks to anything it contacts, making cleanup impossible, as suggested by a recent spill in Russian waters that killed hundreds of seabirds.

As well, burning heavy fuel oil creates so-called ‘black carbon’, a fine soot that falls on snow and ice and hastens its melt. Cleaning up black carbon has been identified as one of the easiest and quickest ways to slow the retreat of Arctic sea ice.

However, the group that sets the rules for international shipping recently declined to ban heavy fuel oil in the Arctic. Bowing to pressure from countries, such as Russia,which have large merchant fleets that use the fuel, the International Marine Organization left the issue out of the Polar Code it adopted last year.

So, the debate continues, but in this day and age, it is probably time to look at the whole picture of Marine pollution by ships and the dangers caused by heavy fuel oil.

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