The International Maritime Organization is being encouraged to block countries from being allowed to delay implementation of a planned ban on the use and transport of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the Arctic regions until 2029.

Responding to reports that Canada and Russia have asked the IMO for a five-year delay to implement the planned ban, which is due to come into force in 2024, the Clean Arctic Alliance lead advisor Sian Prior made a direct demand to the United Nations body.

“​​IMO Member States must now strengthen the Arctic heavy fuel oil fuel prohibition regulation by removing the option for Arctic coastal states to issue waivers to the requirements,” Prior said, “particularly since it appears that Russia — who pushed for the ability to issue waivers — is delaying approval of the Arctic HFO prohibition amendments which brought the ban into effect.”

Prior said it is over a decade since the Arctic Maritime Shipping Assessment report identified accidental or illegal discharges of oil as the most significant threat from ships to the Arctic.

“Next month there is an opportunity for urgent discussions at the IMO to ensure that all nations flagging ships which use the Arctic don’t circumvent the new Arctic HFO ban regulation, and to strengthen its application and effectiveness in protecting the Arctic and its people, wildlife and ecosystems.”

The ban for the Arctic — regulation 43A of Marpol Annex I, which is modelled on a similar one for Antarctica that has been in force on a voluntary basis since 1 August 2011 — was adopted in 2021 during the IMO’s 76th Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meeting.

Member states of the UN body had until 1 November 2022 to claim an exemption of a further five years from 2024 for double-hull vessels and those flying the flag of one of the Arctic coastal states.

Reports said that while Canada supports and intends to comply with the ban it may not have completed its required domestic procedures in time to meet the deadline.

Russia has simply said the IMO amendment will not enter into force for the Russian Federation, with no indication of a future date for uptake.

The other Arctic states — Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark for Greenland and the US — have not invoked the exemption clause.

The Clean Arctic Alliance has submitted a proposal to the 79th session of the IMO’s MEPC meeting from 12 to 16 December to amend regulation 43A of Marpol Annex I to increase its effectiveness at protecting the Arctic from the risks of an HFO spill.