A prohibition on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) as fuels in Arctic waters, initiated by Denmark, will come into effect in 2024, as early as five months from now. So, what will be the impact of the ban and which countries are in favour of it?
The closer the 1 July 2024, the date when the ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil for ships in the Arctic waters starts to be applied, the more publications on this topic appear in the media. For example, the Danish Minister of the Environment presented a bill that will ban the use and transport of heavy oil as fuel on ships sailing in the Arctic. The ban is intended to limit pollution of the sea from oil spills and to reduce air pollution, as heavy oil emits far more particles, including so-called black carbon, CO2, and more sulfur, compared to lighter fuels.
It is important to note that the introduction of the ban is not a sole initiative of Denmark, as one might think without context. Denmark, as a party to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), is simply announcing the commencement of amendments that are already obligatory for it. In 2021, the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) adopted amendments to MARPOL Annex I (adding a new regulation 43A) to introduce a prohibition on the use and carriage for use as fuel of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by ships in Arctic waters on and after 1 July 2024, and Denmark has approved them. According to the Danish Minister of the Environment, Greenland is in the process of implementing the ban in its territorial waters as well.
The ban applies to the use of heavy fuel on ships within the Arctic waters in accordance with the Polar Code and to its carriage as fuel on board. This means that the carriage of heavy oil products and oil as cargo will not be affected by the ban.
In addition, states bordering Arctic waters (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the USA) have the right to exempt vessels flying their flag from the ban when operating within their exclusive economic zones in Arctic waters. Vessels flying other flags, accordingly, have no such right.
The USA, Denmark and Norway agreed with the amendments, while Russia and Canada did not. That is, Russian and Canadian vessels may not be subject to the ban. Finland, by the way, also objected to the amendments and to the whole revised MARPOL Annex VI with all its energy efficiency.
Moreover, in accordance with the ban, foreign vessels must apply it when sailing in Russian waters. In turn, Russian vessels must comply with this requirement when calling at Arctic ports in Denmark, Norway or the USA.
In general, ships are now fuelled with either light fuel oils, such as marine diesel oil, or heavy fuel oils (HFO). The former are more environmentally friendly and the engines running on them are more efficient. However, diesel is significantly more expensive than fuel oil, so large commercial vessels, as a rule, used fuel oil until recently… Today it is not possible to use non-ecological HFO as marine fuel everywhere, including in Arctic waters due to the ban.
However, many refiners have skilfully adapted to the new MARPOL restrictions. They have decided to "blend" light and heavy oil products, thus creating the hybrid product (ULSFO). Ships' bunkers are now often loaded with two types of fuel at once - an environmentally friendly hybrid for the restricted area and fuel oil for sailing in the rest of the world.
Thus, the amendments to MARPOL Annex I to introduce a prohibition on the use and carriage for use as fuel of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by ships in Arctic waters will have less impact on environmental protection than might have been anticipated.
The editorial board of The Arctic Century