Press Release

Arctic heavy-fuel oil ban backed by EU political groups

January 31, 2017

Today’s vote by MEPs to call for a ban on the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO), the dirtiest of all fuel types, by ships when operating in the Arctic has been welcomed by sustainable transport group Transport & Environment. In the event of an oil spill arising from a shipping accident, HFO is impossible to fully clean-up – with catastrophic effects on extremely vulnerable Arctic habitats. But the UN’s maritime body, the IMO, has so far failed to extend the prohibition to the northern polar region.


The decision by the European Parliament’s environment committee, which was backed by almost all of the political groups, also underscores the impact of HFO on human health and climate. Its use results in high emissions of air pollutants with serious effects on human health and it generates black carbon emissions that are widely recognised as the second most important agent of climate change after CO2. HFO use and carriage is already banned in the Antarctic.

Faig Abbasov, shipping policy officer at T&E, said: “We welcome MEPs taking the bold initiative to call for a ban on the use of the world’s dirtiest fuel in the Arctic. It’s unfortunate that the issue is not even on the IMO’s agenda as yet. EU member states should follow the political resolve shown by Europeans’ representatives and champion the protection of one of the most vulnerable ecosystems in the world at the IMO.”

Made from the dregs of the oil refining process, HFO is the dirtiest fuel on the market today – and therefore the cheapest. It accounts for 75% of fuel used by Arctic-going ships. The combustion of HFO deposits black carbon on ice and snow, accelerating ice melting by reducing the albedo effect – the ability to reflect sunlight back into space.

Dr Sian Prior, lead advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, said: The Clean Arctic Alliance welcomes the clear position by the European Parliament’s environment committee, in particular its call for an HFO-free Arctic. Banning heavy fuel oil use by ships operating in the Arctic would reduce both the impact of oil spills and the levels of pollutants which drive the melting of snow and ice in the Arctic. This resolution is a clear message to the International Maritime Organisation that European citizens want a ban on the use of HFO in the Arctic adopted by 2020.”

The IMO’s marine environment protection committee will next meet in July.

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