Arctic Shipping Growth Endangers Ecosystems: Heavy Fuel Oil Ban Urged
The increase in shipping traffic in the Arctic, because of melting sea ice due to global warming, is exacerbating climate change and endangering delicate ecosystems. Shipping activity in the Arctic is predicted to increase by over 50% between 2012 and 2050, causing a shrinkage of Arctic summer sea ice. The Northwest Passage north of Canada and the Northeast Passage north of Russia are the main routes being used, which can significantly reduce journey times.
However, heavy fuel oil (HFO) used by vessels operating in the Arctic poses a major risk to the marine environment. If spilled, HFO is an extremely toxic and viscous marine fuel that breaks down slowly, particularly in colder regions like the Arctic. In the event of an HFO spill, response efforts would be hindered by a lack of infrastructure, severe weather conditions, and navigational hazards such as sea ice.
A switch to distillate for cruise ships in Arctic waters, according to a case study conducted on 2017 cruise ship voyage data, would cost passengers less than €7 per day.
The Arctic is home to many indigenous communities, who depend on marine resources for their livelihoods. The impact of an HFO spill would be devastating, with oil potentially remaining within the affected area for over a decade, impacting growth and reproductive rates of various species. Transport & Environment is urging the shipping industry to recognize the risks of black carbon, to ban heavy fuel oil, and to strengthen non-ice-class vessels’ hulls to prevent accidents and spills that could have horrendous ecological consequences.