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As the Solomon Trader Disaster Shows, 30 Years after Exxon Valdez, Nowhere is Safe from Oil Spills - including the Arctic

As the Solomon Trader Disaster Shows, 30 Years after Exxon Valdez, Nowhere is Safe from Oil Spills – including the Arctic

Co-written with Sian Prior and Eelco Leemans on behalf of the Clean Arctic Alliance, published March 22, 2019

This March 24, Alaskans will mark the 30th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster, when, due to human error, a single-hulled oil tanker struck a reef in Prince William Sound, eventually releasing 35,000 tonnes of crude oil.The impacts on livelihoods and the marine ecosystem were devastating – and three decades later, the effects are still being felt.

After Exxon Valdez, many things changed in the maritime business – over 7,000 crude oil tankers worldwide, for instance, are now required to have double hulls, thanks to MARPOL Annex I, an important international marine environmental convention, aimed at minimising marine pollution caused by shipping.

Yet, double hulls are not a panacea for all oil spills. There’s another 46,000 ships sailing the world’s oceans – general cargo ships, bulk carriers, container vessels, chemical and LNG tankers, ro-ro and passenger vessels. Some, but not all, have double hulls, double-bottoms, or protected fuel tanks. All of these (with a few exceptions), for now, use some form of fossil fuel for propulsion – heavy fuel oil, diesel, or Liquified Natural Gas. While oil volumes may be a fraction of those carried as cargo by oil tankers, a spill of even a comparatively small volume of fuel oil, particularly the most viscous residual or heavy fuel oils, can be devastating for ocean ecosystems, shorelines, wildlife, communities and livelihoods.

Read More »As the Solomon Trader Disaster Shows, 30 Years after Exxon Valdez, Nowhere is Safe from Oil Spills – including the Arctic

Ridding the Arctic of the world’s dirtiest fuel

The Ecologist: Ridding the Arctic of the world’s dirtiest fuel

This article appeared on The Ecologist, on behalf of the Clean Arctic Alliance

Ban on heavy fuel oil transportation from Arctic waters is on the agenda of the world’s shipping experts.

Shipping specialists from around the world are shuttering themselves in the International Maritime Organization’s central London headquarters this week to thrash out a number of issues surrounding the threat of pollution to the climate and oceans from the global shipping industry.

This is an industry that for most of us remains unseen, but which we depend on for bringing us stuff from all over the planet.

At this meeting, the elegantly titled “PPR6”, delegations will be tasked with designing a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil, as fuel, from Arctic waters, and the identification of measures which will reduce emissions of black carbon from the burning of fossil fuels.

Read More »The Ecologist: Ridding the Arctic of the world’s dirtiest fuel
Magdalenefjorden, Svalbard

Which Shipping Companies Are Ready for the Coming Arctic Heavy Fuel Oil Ban?

First published on the shipping news website Splash 24/7 on 13/9/2018

In April this year, a meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC72) in London agreed to move forward on developing a ban on heavy fuel oil – for use and carriage as fuel from Arctic shipping. My colleague Dr Sian Prior and I wrote about how the world’s dirtiest shipping fuel would be banned from the Arctic – why it should be banned, and how the ban was going to take place.

Heavy fuel oil is a dirty and polluting fossil fuel accounting for 80% of marine fuel used worldwide. Around 75% of marine fuel currently carried in the Arctic is HFO. With climate change fuelling high winter temperatures and driving sea ice melt, Arctic waters are opening up to increased shipping in search of shorter transit times – and greatly increasing the risks of HFO spills.

Read More »Which Shipping Companies Are Ready for the Coming Arctic Heavy Fuel Oil Ban?

Greenpeace ship Esperanza on her route towards Antarctica in a Force 10 storm.

Some Good News: We are all crew on this voyage

About a month ago, Deutsche Welle journalist Irene Quaile AKA Iceblogger wrote, in a piece titled Some Arctic good news – not #fakenews!

“With the environment and climate under constant fire from the actions of President Trump, it is great to end the week with a little piece of good news”.

“One thing that made me smile was the announcement that the famous cruise ship operator Hurtigruten had signed the Arctic Commitment, calling for a ban on the use of marine heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the Arctic.”

“So let’s go into the weekend with a round of applause for the tireless campaigners for a clean Arctic. It is hard for an environment journalist to be optimistic in these difficult times. But every little helps. And winning over the cruise ship industry which so many people associate with holiday expeditions into remote areas with intact nature and spectacular wildlife would be a great way to get a wider public “on board” for the voyage to protecting the icy regions of our warming planet.”

Read More »Some Good News: We are all crew on this voyage

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Svalbard’s Global Seed Vault back in the News

Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Svalbard Global Seed Vault

The Global Seed Vault, located the top of the world, on the island of Spitsbergen in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, is back in the news – for the first time seeds are being taken from the bank for one of the reasons it was created – to supply and safeguard seeds in a time of war. Al Jazeera reports that “as Aleppo gene back built to safeguard global food supplies is at risk, researchers request frozen seeds from Svalbard”. Although Aleppo lies within the famous “fertile crescent“, it’s also in the thick of the Syrian war. Svalbard, despite some political shenanigans between Norway and Russia, remains calm, with more polar bears than people, and very cold.
Read More »Svalbard’s Global Seed Vault back in the News

Crabeater Seal, Ross Sea. Dave Walsh 2007

Russia and Norway: You’ve ‘saved’ the Arctic, now it’s time to protect the Antarctic

An official statement released on January 23rd by Russia’s Federal Agency for Fisheries, announced that “Russia and Norway will sign a declaration on preventing unregulated fishing in the Arctic Ocean, helping to conserve the Arctic”.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture of the Russian Federation & Head of the Federal Agency for Fisheries, Ilya Shestakov was quoted saying that:

“Creating an effective mechanism to regulate fishing in the region is an urgent task, because the Arctic is the last major region in respect of which have not yet developed international agreements in the field of fisheries.”

Read More »Russia and Norway: You’ve ‘saved’ the Arctic, now it’s time to protect the Antarctic

Iceberg, Southern Ocean, Antarctica

Russia, how long must we wait?

Iceberg, Southern Ocean, Antarctica
Iceberg, Southern Ocean, Antarctica

As I write, the dozens of delegates attending this years meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) should be sound asleep in their Hobart hotel rooms, if they’re not out tasting Tasmania’s finest wines in the the Salamanca neighbourhood.

Until the end of the month, the officials from 24 countries – plus the EU – will consider a range of issues, the most notorious of which is the long-delayed establishment of marine reserves in the Ross Sea and in the waters of East Antarctica. I can’t tell you what’s happening at the meeting so far, as CCAMLR meets behind closed doors. The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition is the only non-governmental organisation representing civil society at CCAMLR – but my colleagues in the room are prohibited from reporting on proceedings until they have formally ended. We will know if the news is good or bad by the end of October.

Read More »Russia, how long must we wait?

The Slaney River and the World

For all the travelling I’ve done, it’s always good to come home. I am writing these words 50m away from the River Slaney, in the south east of Ireland, with a a copy of Crossabeg: The Parish and its People (Vol 2) waiting for me. And I’m honoured to be featured in the book. When my neighbour here, Alice Devine, one of the team who put the book together asked me to write something about my travels, I thought the best way was to show how my upbringing in Crossabeg provided the foundation for everything that followed – including my trips to the Arctic and the Antarctic. For those of you not able to get your hands on the book, here’s what I wrote:

Read More »The Slaney River and the World

Iceberg, Antarctica, (c) Dave Walsh

Antarctica’s Glaciers are Collapsing – Are We Ready To Pay Attention?

Iceberg, Antarctica, (c) Dave Walsh
Iceberg, Antarctica, (c) Dave Walsh

I posted this blog on – it’s an exploration of the meaning of recent news on the West Antarctic ice shelf collapse.

The “irreversible collapse” of glaciers in Antarctica is dominating headlines around the world this week. News outlets are breathlessly reporting that the dramatic rise in sea levels that’s now on the cards. So what does it mean? Should we panic? Do we need to grab the family, and head for the hills?

Well, no, we shouldn’t panic. Not yet. If we’re going to freak out, we should perhaps be more constructive – and get real about our carbon emissions, energy efficiency, adaption and supporting the people who needs the most help. Let’s be clear – it’s not as if a giant ice cube has been dropped into the Southern Ocean, generating a monster tsunami. We don’t need to start filling a large wooden boat with two of every living creature and one Russell Crowe, either.
Read More »Antarctica’s Glaciers are Collapsing – Are We Ready To Pay Attention?