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New rules for Arctic transport ‘a missed opportunity’

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Restrictions were created to protect Arctic wildlife

The International Maritime Organization has passed a series of restrictions on ships that use and transport heavy-duty oils.

Hopes these will help protect Arctic lands, communities and wildlife.

But the new rules include a series of waivers and exemptions for ships from Arctic coastal states.

The ruling has been condemned by environmentalists as a “massively missed opportunity”.

Heavy oil (HFO) is widely used to power merchant ships. HFOs have been banned in Antarctic waters since 2011 for fear that oil spills could cause pollution.

Dr Sian Prior, of the Pure Arctic Alliance, said the IMO and its member states “must take collective responsibility for failing to establish genuine protection of the Arctic, indigenous communities and wildlife from the threat of heavy oil” “.

The IMO plan “will allow 74% of HFO-fed vessels to continue to use HFO in the Arctic,” said Dr Bryan Comer, of the International Council on Clean Transport.

“(It) will result in a reduction of carried HFO of only 30% and a reduction of carbon black emissions by only 5%,” he added.

And John Maggs, senior policy adviser at Seas at Risk, said: “A ‘ban’ affecting only a quarter of ships is not a ban at all.”

A coalition of green groups had proposed a much tougher set of restrictions, but they were rejected by delegates.

Arctic sea ice
Arctic sea ice is disappearing

HFO produces emissions of harmful pollutants, including sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon black. Moreover, an accident which resulted in an HFO spill from a ship could wreak havoc on the fragile Arctic ecosystem.

Analysts say that as the amount of sea ice in the Arctic decreases, more and more ships will use the North Sea Route.

The new restrictions, which will take effect in July 2024, aim to reduce the number of ships that can use and transport HFOs in the Arctic.

But included are a whole range of exemptions and decommissionings for ships flying the flag of five Central Arctic coastal countries (Russia, Norway, Denmark (Greenland), Canada and the US) until July 2029.

Russia has the largest number of ships in the Arctic area. He told IMO delegates that the NGO proposal was “irresponsible”.

Earlier this month, Norway announced its proposed HFO ban from all waters around the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

“This is another sad day for the Arctic,” said Sigurd Enge, manager of Shipping, Marine and Arctic Issues, Bellona.

“The Arctic environment is threatened from all sides, from climate change, toxic pollution, plastic pollution, oil exploration and other extractive industries. What the Arctic needs now is better defense and courageous politicians.”

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