Iceland Bans Use of HFO in Its Waters

Iceland is pushing forward with its efforts to curb sulphur emissions in its waters in line with its climate action plan.

Namely, Iceland’s Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, has issued a regulation to restrict exhaust emissions containing high levels of sulphur from being burned by ships in Iceland’s territorial waters.

In line with the regulation, the permissible sulphur content will be lowered from 3.5% down to 0.1% on January 1, 2020, making the sulphur requirements comparable with those currently in effect in Emission Control Areas as defined by Annex VI of MARPOL.

In addition, on January 1 2020, the permissible sulphur content of marine fuels will be lowered down to 0.5% within the Icelandic Pollution Prevention Zone but outside of the territorial sea.

This will make the permissible sulphur content in marine fuels in Iceland 0.1% in the territorial sea and internal waters, i.e. also in fjords and bays. Further out to sea and outside of territorial waters, the sulphur content cannot exceed 0.5%.

Vessels can, however, continue to burn heavy fuel oil if they use approved emission abatement methods to reduce the release of sulphur dioxide, i.e. scrubbers.

Commenting on the decision, the Iceland Nature and Conservation Association and the Clean Arctic Alliance stressed that the new rule contains a loophole that allows vessels to continue to burn polluting heavy fuel oil and emit black carbon, provided they use scrubbers.

“Iceland’s new regulation to limit exhaust emissions with high levels of sulphur from shipping in Iceland’s waters is a positive step forward by Environment Minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, but fails to address emissions of black carbon, which accelerates Arctic sea ice melt, and in turn accelerate the effects of human-induced climate change,” said Árni Finnsson, of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association.

“The only viable step forward is for Iceland to completely ban the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil from its territorial waters, ahead of an International Maritime Organization ban currently in development to ban its use and carriage in the Arctic.”

The environmental organizations pointed to the release of potential pollutants from open-loop scrubbers into the seawater as well as the likely use of HFO and the resulting emissions of sulphur in cases of scrubber malfunctions in cold temperatures or due to ice.

In addition, the organizations pointed to the risk of severe damage to the ocean ecosystem in case of an accidental HFO spill. Cleaning HFO once it enters the marine environment, particularly colder Arctic waters, is virtually impossible, the Clean Arctic Alliance said.

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