Cruise ship’s close call renews demands for Arctic HFO ban

“The Viking Sky crisis should serve as a wake-up call”

This is what it looked like aboard the Viking Sky cruise ship on March 23, when the ship with about 1,300 passengers and crew got into difficulty off the Norwegian coast during a storm. The cruise ship was closer to southern Norway when the incident took place, but the near-disaster has prompted a renewed call for a ban on heavy fuel oil in the Arctic. (Screen shot from YouTube)

By Jane George

The near-grounding of the cruise ship Viking Sky this past weekend off Norway has renewed concerns about the use of dirty and difficult-to-clean up heavy fuel oil in the Arctic.

The ship, owned by Viking Cruises, experienced engine problems in rough seas on Saturday. After its engines finally restarted, the ship finally reached safe harbour yesterday in Molde, Norway, but not before it nearly grounded on rocks about 900 metres from shore where it had stopped and anchored.

At least 20 of the roughly 1,300 passengers and crew aboard were injured as the cruise ship heaved from side to side, reports say, while several hundred people ended up being evacuated by helicopters.

The Norwegian Red Cross posted this photo on Twitter of passengers being evacuated off the Viking Sky, which was in distress off the coast of Norway. Nearly 500 people were taken off the cruise ship. (Photo courtesy of the Rode Kors Norge)

At the same time, a freighter, which had come close to the cruise ship to offer assistance, also suffered engine failure and required some of the helicopters bound for the cruise ship to go to its assistance.

The incidents prompted a statement by Sian Prior, lead advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of non-governmental organizations calling for a ban on the use and carriage of HFO as fuel in the Arctic.

Inuit Child First, Indigenous Services Canada

“With a new season of cruise ships poised to enter Arctic waters, the Viking Sky crisis should serve as a wake-up call,” Prior said.

Several factors helped avert disaster and ensured the safe return of passengers and crew to shore this weekend, including “very importantly, the proximity of rescue infrastructure,” she said.

The Viking Sky was reported to be carrying 343 tonnes of HFO on board.

The grounding of Viking Sky could have “created a strong risk of an oil spill, which would have been devastating for the environment and local communities,” she said. “This summer, similar cruise ships carrying thousands of passengers will sail in Arctic waters and in other vulnerable regions, far from search and rescue facilities, including helicopters and tugs.”

Prior said the lives of the passengers and crew are at stake as well as those involved in the response and rescue—”which in remote Arctic locations is likely to include Indigenous and coastal communities with minimal or no equipment and training,’ she said.

A spill of HFO is likely to take months to years to be completely cleaned up, she said.

The International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution, wants to see a ban of HFO in the Arctic, which would be adopted in 2021, and phased in by 2023.

HFO is already banned throughout Antarctica, as well as in the national park waters around the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

But before banning HFO, Canada has called for assessments into the impacts of an HFO ban on Arctic Indigenous communities. That’s although the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. have come out in favour of an Arctic HFO ban.

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(3) Comments:

  1. Posted by Putuguk on

    Natural oil seeps from the ocean floor in the Scott Inlet – Buchan Gulf and other areas in Nunavut have been occurring since time immemorial.

    Satellite imagery confirms that these oil slicks, when and if detected, can exceed 250 square kilometers in size and represent around 50,000 barrels of oil each, far in excess of the fuel capacity of any cruise ship.

    This oil has never been cleaned up. From an oil perspective, Nunavut seas are nowhere near pristine.

    Marine life along the main Baffin shipping route has successfully evolved and adapted over geologic time to chronic pollution exposure from oil.

    If this were not true, North Baffin waters would be biologically impoverished, which is obviously not the case.

    A cruise ship wreck in Nunavut that involved ruptured fuel tanks would be a terrible accident that should be avoided. It would lead to local, temporary environmental damage. We can and should be prepared to respond to such an accident.

    It is however not fair to say that we could expect this to be a devastating ecological disaster for sea life or for communities.

    Stick to banning HFO because of the soot. Do not create unwarranted fear.

    • Posted by Tikiq on

      So are you saying its ok to have all these cruise ships come up here and not have a plan?

      There’s natural oil seeping through its ok if a cruise ship runs a ground and spells all its oil and gas.

      Doesn’t sound too good.

  2. Posted by pissed off on

    Jane , don`t be such an ambulance chaser.

    I understand your genuine care for the environment but the only way to be 100% safe, ,100% of the time is to crawl under the bedsheets and stay there forever.

    The ship suffered from an extemely unusual set of circumstances. I agree that HFO are not baby`s milk but why beat the drum for their removal at that time. The replacement fuel is not that great either in a spill.

    We can`t change the world and its methods and operations overnight.
    It will come . No sense using every sensational opportunity to be alarmist.

    Thank you

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