Heavy oil in Arctic ships debated at Norway conference
International Maritime Organization's Polar Code talks set to wrap up this week
Reprinted with permission
The International Maritime Organization will likely finish negotiations later this week for what will become the international Polar Code for shipping in the Arctic.
When approved, it will be a legally binding set of rules for voyages in polar regions.
The Polar Code will, however, not include a ban on use of heavy fuel oil. Environmentalists fear a shipping accident causing heavy fuel oil to leak out will have dramatic consequences for fragile Arctic eco-systems.
“Heavy fuel oil has huge implications for environment. We must find other ways of fueling the ships in the future,” said Nina Jensen, Norway chief executive for the World Wildlife Fund.
Arctic shipping was the big issue at the first day of Arctic Frontiers, a Tromsø-based conference gathering more than 1,000 stakeholders from around the globe in fields such as science, politics, businesses and civil society.
“The Arctic is not a place to conquer, but a place with great values to be protected,” said Nina Jensen, quoting Sturla Henriksen who, earlier on Monday, made a presentation on behalf of the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association.
Felix Tschudi, owner of the Tschudi Group, is one of the Association’s members. Tschudi, which pioneered the first bulk vessel to sail the Northern Sea Route in transit from Kirkenes in Norway to China in 2010, disagrees that a ban on heavy fuel oil is the solution for Arctic shipping.
“There are no large vessels, like bulk-carriers, that are not running on heavy fuel oil today. If it comes, such a ban for the Arctic, nobody will sail there but instead use the Suez, or other sea routes,” said Felix Tschudi. He believes it is a myth that heavy fuel oil is worse than other oil products.
“It might be that light oil could be spread much more. This must be investigated. That’s why I think we should focus on oil pollution as such rather than specific oil products,” said Tschudi, stressing that the most important thing is to avoid leakages.
“The best safety measure we have today is escorts by Russian icebreakers that immediately can assist if needed.” Tschudi says he is 100 percent in favour of a Polar Code for shipping, but theories must be investigated before making conclusions.
“It is for sure not a myth, there is a reason why we already have implemented such rules in Antarctica and eastern Svalbard,” said Nina Jensen.
Shipping nations and companies in both Europe and Asia are showing increased interest in shipping across the top of the globe as Arctic sea ice continues to decrease annually.
In 2012, the Chinese icebreaker “Snow Dragon” made a voyage nearly across the North Pole on its way from Iceland to the Bering Strait.
In the near future, more vessels are expected to sail north of Russia’s Northern Sea Route, in what is named the Transpolar Sea Route.
Bo Andersen, director general of the Norwegian Space Centre, monitors Arctic sea ice and shipping.
“For nearly two months in 2012, high ice class vessels could pass with a route 25 percent shorter than the Northern Sea Route. With less ice, these opportunities will be used,” said Andersen, in his presentation at the Tromsø conference.
Arild Moe is deputy director at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute and a member of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ panel studying the consequences for Norway of increased Arctic shipping activities.
“The Arctic Ocean is not prepared for a rapid increase in activity,” said Moe, adding that new regulations and infrastructure must be established now.
Russia has already started to upgrade needed infrastructure and will create ten new search-an- rescue centers along the Northern Sea Route.
Anton Vasiliev, Moscow’s ambassador to the Arctic Council, expressed his confidence in Russia’s readiness for the next wave of northern shipping in his conference keynote address.
“We believe we will have the infrastructure in the Northern Sea Route ready in three to four years,” Vasiliev said.