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Norway Announces Plans For HFO Ban around Svalbard Leapfrogging Proposed IMO Regulation (HNN)

November 10, 2020

A week before the IMO is expected to finalize a proposed heavy fuel oil ban for the entire Arctic, Norway announced plans for more stringent regulation for waters surrounding Svalbard.


The Norwegian government is finalizing plans for a ban of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the waters around the Svalbard archipelago. The use of HFO has been outlawed in the waters of Svalbard’s national park since 2015, but this proposed ban would significantly expand the area in which the use of HFO will be prohibited.

This expanded ban could come into effect as early as 1 January 2022.

The policy initiative comes in light of growing vessel traffic around the archipelago, especially from cruise ships.

“A spill of heavy oil will be catastrophic for nature and the environment. But it will also have an impact on the reputation of tourism in Svalbard. Therefore, we must do everything we can to prevent the unthinkable,” says Minister of Climate and Environment Sveinung Rotevatn to NRK.

Norway’s efforts surpass proposed regulation by the International Maritime Organization to ban HFO throughout the Arctic. This initiative has been under discussion for more than a decade and a proposed ban has been repeatedly criticized by environment groups as ineffective due to numerous loopholes.

A IMO subcommittee is expected to vote on the proposed ban next week.

While HFO is not the most frequently used type of fuel in the Arctic – distillate marine fuel oils are the most common – it is by far the most dangerous to the environment. Heavy fuel oil is the heaviest and most viscous type of residual fuel oil which in case of an accidental spill would be very difficult to clean up in the Arctic.

It also produces a lot of soot, or Black Carbon, when it is burned in a ship’s engine. Black Carbon is especially harmful in the Arctic where it can settle on and increase the melt rate of sea ice.

Norway’s initiative was received well by environmental groups, including the Clean Arctic Alliance, a group of 20 not-for-profit organisations committed to a ban on use of HFO as marine fuel in the Arctic.

“We welcome this important commitment by Norway to protect the waters around Svalbard from the risks of heavy fuel oil spills, and its glaciers and sea ice from the impacts of black carbon emissions caused by the burning of HFO. Norway leads the way amongst Arctic nations in getting rid of HFO from Arctic waters, and is demonstrating international leadership by going above and beyond the weak ambitions of Arctic HFO ban currently being considered by the International Maritime Organization,” says the Alliance’s Lead Advisor Dr Sian Prior.