Environmental activists: “Consumers can stop dirty ships from smashing the Arctic’s nature”

Heavy fuel oil is the most dirty fuel that ships can sail with.
Kevin Harun, Arctic Program Director, Pacific Environment and KÅRE PRESS-KRISTENSEN, Senior Counselor, Ecological Council, Copenhagen
Date: July 19, 2018

Note: Translated to English from the original Danish 

Heavy bunker oil is the most dirty fuel that ships can sail with. It is at risk of destroying Greenland’s nature, which is crucial to the country’s economy and culture.

The Ecological Council has gradually measured air pollution in many places. In the last weeks we have measured air pollution at various locations in Greenland. In the mountains there is some of the world’s purest air. Much cleaner than what we come near in Denmark.

We have only measured the same clean air in the pebble caves in Hungary and in the middle of the Mexican jungle. In the larger Greenlandic cities, oil fires, old diesel cars and small industries make a significant contribution to local air pollution, but shipping is a major overlooked source of air pollution in Greenland. As ice melts, shipping is growing as a source of air pollution. Even more freighter ships sail through the Arctic, and cruise tourism is growing rapidly.

In Greenland, a number of larger ships still sail – including the state-owned Royal Arctic Line and approx. 40 cruise ships – on some of the world’s most polluting fuels: heavy bunker oil. Heavy bunker oil is the waste that the refineries have left beyond asphalt when all cleaner fuels are distilled. Heavy bunker oil on average contains 2,500 times more sulfur than road diesel.

As the ships burn large amounts of bunker oil without flue gas cleaning, huge amounts of air pollution are emitted, which in addition to causing health damage, destroys Greenland’s unique ecosystems and contributes to ice melting. At the same time, greater waste of heavy bunker oil in Greenland can lead to irreversible damage to marine ecosystems which form the basis for the country’s culture and economy.

Heavy bunker oil decomposes slowly below the low temperatures and will therefore cause long-term damage to nature and to the fishing industry. And here, efficient cleanup after major oil spill and illegal emissions is impossible.

To give an impression of the pollution, it is clear that a Royal Arctic Line cargo ship burns approx. 30 tons of heavy bunker oil daily, cruise ships burn on average 55 tons of heavy bunker oil daily, while the largest cruise ships burn up around 125 tonnes of heavy bunker oil daily.

Compared with the pollution from the waste incineration in Nuuk, just a freighter or cruise ship emits on a single trip in Greenland a pollution of sulfur, NOx and particles that are of the same magnitude as the emissions from the waste incineration in Nuuk in an entire year. A large cruise ship pollutes on a single trip in Greenland more than polluting pollution in two years.

There is therefore an urgent need to overcome the air pollution of ships by prohibiting the use of heavy bunker oil in the Arctic. This can happen without major consequences. Half of all cruise ships, most fishing vessels and some freighter ships do not use heavy bunker oil in Greenland.

The shipping company Hurtigruten is a good example of an environmental progressive player in the Arctic, voluntarily using light bunker oil to protect the environment. This shows precisely that it is possible to do business without heavy bunker oil. But since heavy bunker oil is the cheapest for large ships, only companies worry about the environment, who voluntarily switch to light bunker oil.

To get the remaining ships away from the heavy bunker oil and to use air purification in the longer term, regulatory and / or financial incentives are required. In order to avoid pollution damage and reduce the risk of oil spill, the international community has banned the use of heavy bunker oil in the Antarctic. But there is not yet a similar ban in the Arctic. Despite the fact that the risk of oil spill and damage to the population and nature is greater in Greenland compared with Antarctica.

Therefore, the Ecological Council and Pacific Environment have collaborated with a large number of international environmental organizations gathered in the Clean Arctic Alliance. We have started discussions in the UN Maritime Organization (IMO) of a ban on ships’ use of heavy bunker oil in the Arctic. The proposal has gradually received support from many flag states. But paradoxically, it remains a positive indication from Greenland, which would have a significant symbolic impact on IMO and make it easier to protect the Arctic and Greenland against devastating pollution.

As a concrete example, it can be concluded that the cruise ship ‘MS Rotterdam’, owned by the large multinational carnival company Carnival Corporation, will in these weeks visit Qaqortoq and Nanortalik here in Greenland. Should the ship fail, up to a thousand tons of heavy bunker oil from the fuel tanks can smash the unique, sensitive ecosystems here in one of the world’s most unspoiled natural areas. Paradoxically, the nature of which the ship’s passengers pay thousands of dollars to experience. Heavy bunker oil is 33 percent cheaper than light bunker oil. However, since fuel consumption is a very small part of the ticket price, a shift to light bunker oil along Greenland would hardly be felt on passengers’ fare.

For a company like Carnival, which earned 17.5 billion. kr in 2017 and has a marketing budget of 3.5 billion. It seems absurd not to have only a minimum environmental standard, so the world’s most harmful marine fuel is not used here in one of the planet’s most sensitive natural areas. Other cruise companies can easily do business with cleaner fuels. Only by standing together as consumers can we stop environmental pigs like Carnival from smashing the Arctic nature. Therefore, we encourage you to share the story of Carnival – if they do not voluntarily listen to common sense, they will hopefully listen to the people and perhaps especially their customers.