Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Arctic Routing of Container Ship Raises Environmental Questions - and Hackles

Northern Sea Route Gets more Traffic Every Year
Shipping News Feature
ARCTIC – When Maersk announced recently it was to embark on a trial crossing using the Northern Sea Route (NSR) it seemed a fairly innocuous event as we have covered many similar voyages over the years as the ice retreated for longer each season. However whilst the use of heavy fuel oil when in Antarctic waters has been completely banned since August 2011, that is not yet the case for the polar opposite, and the world's largest container carrier is being challenged to reveal what is powering the Venta Maersk as she sets off to skirt the Russian coast.

In April 2018, the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee agreed to move forward on consideration of an Arctic ban on heavy fuel oil. The meeting directed a sub-committee (PPR6), which will meet in early 2019, to develop a ban on heavy fuel oil use and carriage for use by ships in the Arctic.

Just this week a proposal to commit to the use of LNG, rather than heavy oil, put forward by Finnish President Sauli Niinistö has been strenuously backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin who said the switch was absolutely the right option

Now the Clean Arctic Alliance (CAA), a cooperative organisation which includes such environmental luminaries as Greenpeace and the WWF amongst its members, has challenged Maersk to reveal exactly what fuel the Venta Maersk will be using on her passage between the Pacific and Antarctic oceans.

Despite the presence of the Polar Code, the mandatory standards issued by the IMO for all vessels travelling in both Arctic and Antarctic waters, the CAA remains unconvinced. Whilst the code mandates double hulled vessels, prohibition of the discharge of any oily residues etc. it does not, as yet, specify fuel type and quality.

Up to now the only way to reliably transit the NSR has been with the support of Russian nuclear powered icebreakers but the changing environmental conditions may well see more and more commercial vessels taking a shot at the short cut which saves both time and fuel. Whilst the Polar Code encourages vessels not to use or carry heavy fuel oil in the Arctic it does not currently forbid its use, and Clean Arctic Alliance Lead Advisor Sian Prior commented:

“The Clean Arctic Alliance challenges Maersk to come clean on what fuel the Venta Maersk will use when crossing Arctic waters, and for Maersk, its customers, and its competitors to commit to never using the world’s dirtiest fuel, heavy fuel oil (HFO), to power ships in the Arctic. It is time for international shipping companies to clean up their act by moving to cleaner fuels, while operating in sensitive and vulnerable regions of the world, for the sake of the Arctic, its people, its wildlife and indeed, for the whole planet.

”With this week’s news that the Arctic’s strongest sea ice has broken up twice this year, for the first time on record, using heavy fuel oil to power shipping in the Arctic not only increases the risk of oil spills, but also generates emissions of black carbon, which exacerbate the melting of both sea and glacier ice in the Arctic region. By taking the lead in the Arctic, Maersk could lead a vanguard of companies shipping commercial goods that move towards clean and renewable forms of propulsion for shipping worldwide.”

The Venta Maersk is a 3,600 TEU box carrier just built for the company and sailing between Vladivostok and Busan. She is the most modern ice class vessel, and one of the biggest in her class, capable of operating in waters as cold as -25°C. Previously other lines have used the route including MOL and COSCO but Maersk are adamant that this voyage, due to transit the Bering Strait on September 1, is purely a trial for a vessel which, with her three siblings, will normally operate on Seago Line’s rotations, with no plans to make this a regular route – as yet.