Arctic & Antarctica
In 2016, the luxury cruise ship Crystal Serenity transited the Northwest Passage making history and headlines. Its first Canadian stop was the western Arctic town of Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., seen here. (Photo by Elaine Anselmi)

Arctic: A hybrid cruise ship and a call for a ban on Heavy Fuel Oil

The future of Arctic marine transportation could hang on innovation and regulation

There have been moments that signalled a change in how Arctic waters would be used.

There was the 1,600-person cruise ship, the Crystal Serenity, that crossed the Northwest Passage in 2016.

The largest-ever vessel to make this voyage, it did so with much fanfare—and criticism—as the region opened up to a much larger share, and grandiose type, of tourism.

Cruise ship transits through the Canadian Arctic had already doubled between the 2005 and 2006 seasons, but that’s not nearly as flashy as the 13-deck luxury liner moored in Queen’s Bay off Ulukhaktok.

Map of the Arctic Ocean showing the Northwest Passage, the Northern Sea Route and the Northeast Passage. While portions of these routes are currently blocked by sea ice, the Arctic Ocean is soon expected to experience ice-free summers. Image courtesy of NOAA via Wikimedia.

This year, 17 expedition ships visited Pond Inlet on north Baffin Island. The largest among them carried just under 500 passengers.

That was the MS Roald Amundsen: another mark of change on Arctic waters, it was propelled by a hybrid engine.

Operated by Hurtigruten, a Norwegian cruise and cargo company, the Roald Amundsen has four diesel engines and two batteries that cut emissions by 20 per cent, according to the company.

And the company has three more retrofits of vessels in the works. But while battery-diesel hybrids work for cruise ships and ferries, longer voyages are still beyond a battery’s store of power.

In the current climate and biodiversity crisis, immediate action is needed from the marine transportation industry, says Andrew Dumbrille, a sustainable shipping expert with World Wildlife Fund–Canada.

“What we’re seeing is there are some operators that are willing to make those commitments and investments,” he said. “But we need more ambition within the industry.”

A low-carbon diet

For cargo ships and many cruise ships, heavy fuel oil remains the economical, popular choice.

HFO is cheap, viscous oil that lingers long after a spill and emits more black carbon than any other fuel type.

Black carbon emissions are a particular concern in the Arctic because, after being emitted, these particles settle on the white polar snow and ice, darkening its surface to absorb more sunlight and speed up the melt.

The impact of black carbon in the Arctic is five times that of its effect in the south, said Dumbrille.

In 2017, 7.6 per cent of all black carbon emissions in Canada—or 2,761 tonnes—came from marine transportation, according to the federal government. Comparatively, air transportation contributed 1.9 per cent—or 704 tonnes.

HFO is currently banned in Antarctic waters because of the environmental impact, and the Arctic Council has called for a similar ban in the North.

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Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) is a category of fuel oils of a tar-like consistency identified as a "worse case substance". Also known as bunker fuel or residual fuel oil, HFO is the result or remnant from the distillation and cracking process of crude oil. See Heavy fuel oil from Wikipedia,

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