Polar shipping deserves better than HFO
21st December 2011 18:45 GMT

Environmental risk reduction measures for Arctic shipping extend beyond ice-strengthening requirements and bunker tank protections.  

Of critical importance, as well, is the type of fuel used by vessels.  Even with strong preventative measures in place, a collision or grounding can lead to a fuel spill.  

One need not look further than the 2007 sinking of the Explorer in the Southern Ocean.  The vessel had an ice-strengthened hull, but master error led to the vessel’s demise as it entered an ice field, containing very hard land ice, at too great a speed.  

The fact that the Explorer bunkered distillate fuel instead of heavy fuel oil was crucial, however, in minimising the environmental impact of the incident.  

Tests have shown that weathering can break down distillate in approximately three days, whereas over 90% of heavy fuel oil persisted even after 20 days in the water.  Marine distillate fuels also generally do not emulsify, in contrast to heavy fuel oils which after three to five days emulsify to the maximum water content (40 to 80 percent), significantly increasing the volume of oil to be recovered.

While the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has established a heavy fuel oil use ban, as well as oil carriage ban, in the Southern Ocean, the Arctic Ocean does not enjoy similar protections.

In fact, despite the seas’ similar characteristics and vulnerabilities, the Arctic Ocean is afforded almost none of the protections granted to the Southern Ocean.  An upcoming IMO Polar Code meeting in February, DE 56, nevertheless, could help change that dynamic and restore some regulatory parity to shipping in Polar Regions.

John Kaltenstein,
21st December 2011 18:45 GMT

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