Arctic deserves more protection

Sue Libenson
Date: January 16, 2018

The fire continuing to rage on the stricken tanker offshore of Shanghai should give pause to all with concern for the ocean, especially those who depend on sensitive, remote waters such as the Arctic. For now, the tanker’s cargo of light fuel is ablaze. But response crews have voiced concerns about the looming fate of the heavy fuel oil or bunker fuel that powered the tanker. Heavy fuel is the dirtiest kind of oil and highly persistent if spilled. A large heavy fuel spill into the waters of China’s largest fishery would compound the tragedy of the tanker’s missing crew. High seas, poisonous fumes, explosions and winds have hampered rescue and response efforts this week.

China’s calamity highlights efforts underway to prevent heavy fuel oil spills in other sensitive, but far more challenging waters. International consideration is currently being given to phase out the use of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic where communities depend on marine life and spill response is negligible. If spilled, heavy fuel oil would remain for long periods and could spread widely if entrained in moving ice. This dangerous fuel is already banned under international rules for Antarctic waters. The Arctic deserves the same international precautions.