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Debate on Arctic shipping heats up

WWF Norway's Nina Jensen and shipowner Felix Tschudi.

TROMSØ: WWF’s Nina Jensen urges a ban on heavy fuel oil for Arctic shipping while shipowner Felix Tschudi says it is a myth that such ban is best for the environment.

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The International Maritime Organization (IMO) will likely finalize negotiations later this week for what will be the Polar Code for shipping in Arctic waters. When approved, it will be a legally binding set of rules for voyages in polar regions.

The Polar Code will, however, not include a ban on usage of heavy fuel oil. Environmentalists fear a shipping accident causing heavy fuel oil to leak out will have dramatically consequences for the fragile Arctic eco-systems.

“Heavy fuel oil has huge implications for environment. We must find other ways of fueling the ships in the future,” says Nina Jensen, WWF Norway chief executive.

Arctic shipping was the big issue at the first day of Arctic Frontiers, a Tromsø-based conference gathering more than 1,000 stakeholders from around the globe in fields like science, politics, businesses and civil society.

“The Arctic is not a place to conquer, but a place with great values to be protected,” said Nina Jensen quoting Sturla Henriksen that earlier on Monday presented the views of the Norwegian shipowners’ Association. 

Nobody will sail Northern Sea Route
Felix Tschudi is one of the Association’s members and owner of the Tschudi group. Pioneering the first bulk vessel to sail the Northern Sea Route in transit, from Kirkenes in Norway to China in 2010, Tschudi disbelieves a ban on heavy fuel oil is the solution for Arctic shipping.

“There are no large vessels, like bulk-carriers, that are not running on heavy fuel oil today. If it comes such ban for the Arctic, nobody will sail there but instead use the Suez- or other sea routes,” said Felix Tschudi. He believes it is a myth that heavy fuel oil is so much worse than other oil products.

“It might be that light oil could be spread much more. This must be investigated. That’s why I think we should focus on oil pollution as such rather than specific oil products,” argues Felix Tschudi underlining that the most important is to avoid any leakages. 

Russian icebreakers improves safety
“The best safety measure we have today is escorts by Russian icebreakers that immediately can assist if needed.” Tschudi says he is 100 percent in favor of a Polar Code for shipping, but that myths must be studies better before making conclusions.

“It is for sure not a myth, there is a reason why we already have implemented such rules in Antarctica and eastern Svalbard,” replied Nina Jensen.

Many cruiseliners have already agreed on not fueling their vessels with heavy oil as they sail in the waters around Svalbard.

Shipping nations and companies in both Europe and Asia show increased interest for shipping towards the top of the globe as the Arctic sea ice melts away. 

An area 13 times the size of mainland Norway has melted away in the Arctic over the last 20 years. 

Transpolar Sea Route
In 2012, the Chinese icebreaker “Snow Dragon” made a voyage nearly across the North Pole on its way from Iceland to the Bering Strait. In the near future, more vessels are expected to sail north of Russia’s Northern Sea Route, in what is named the Transpolar Sea Route. 

Bo Andersen, Director General of the Norwegian Space Centre monitors Arctic sea ice and shipping. 

“For nearly two months in 2012, high ice class vessels could pass with a route 25 percent shorter than the Northern Sea Route. With less ice these opportunities will be used,” said Bo Andersen in his presentation at the Arctic Frontiers.

From zero voyages in transit along Russia’s northern Siberia coast in 2009 to 71 vessels in 2013 brings up the question about search- and rescue capabilities in the Arctic.

Arctic Ocean is not prepared
Arild Moe is Deputy Director at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute and a member of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ panel studying consequences for Norway of increased Arctic shipping activities.

“The Arctic Ocean is not prepared for a rapid increase in activity,” says Arild Moe underlining that new regulations and infrastructure must be established now.

Russia has already started to upgrade needed infrastructure and will create ten new search- and rescue centers along the Northern Sea Route.

“We believe we will have the infrastructure in the Northern Sea Route ready in three to four years,” said Anton Vasiliev in his keynote speech. Vasiliev is Moscow’s Ambassador to the Arctic Council.