Ships in Arctic Make Rescuers Sit ‘Up at Night’” (front page, July 24) is on point that prevention is the best course of action. Preventive measures for the worst case are in the works.

In the event of a shipwreck, a heavy fuel oil spill has been identified as the top threat to Arctic marine life and to Arctic residents who depend on this sea for food. Heavy fuel oil is far more toxic than lighter fuels, breaking down slowly, particularly in the cold Arctic.

Uncharted waters, extraordinary distances from infrastructure, severe weather, darkness and hazards including sea ice make spill response essentially impossible. Costs to shippers for a spill would be extreme.

Recognizing these risks, heavy fuel oil has been banned in Antarctic waters. Fortunately, shipping’s International Maritime Organization, with the support of Arctic countries, including the United States, recently committed to take preventive action to create rules to phase out the use of this most toxic fuel in the Arctic as well.


The writer is senior Arctic program officer for Pacific Environment, an N.G.O. with consultative status at the International Maritime Organization.

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Image credit: Katie Orlinsky


CredKatie Orlinsky

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