The Viking Sky incident carried a “strong risk of an oil spill” after it was reported to be carrying heavy fuel oil (HFO) on board, the Clean Arctic Alliance warned.
The Norwegian Coastal Administration (Kystverket) said Viking Sky was carrying 343 tonnes of HFO on board, along with 465 tonnes of diesel.
Clean Arctic Alliance lead adviser Dr Sian Prior said “Viking Sky was in distress close to the Norwegian coast; the grounding of the vessel created a strong risk of an oil spill, which would have been devastating for the environment and local communities.”
Responding to news that cruise ship Viking Sky, owned by Viking Cruises, had reached safe harbour in Molde, Norway she said, “With a new season of cruise ships poised to enter Arctic waters, the Viking Sky crisis should serve as a wake-up call.
“Several factors helped avert disaster and ensured the safe return of passengers and crew to shore this weekend: the response and resolve of Viking Sky’s crew, who restarted its engines under difficult conditions, the bravery and expertise of Norwegian helicopter teams and the crews of support vessels operating in difficult conditions to rescue Viking Sky passengers and the crew of the freighter Hagland Captain, along with the experience and resources of Norway’s authorities, and very importantly, the proximity of rescue infrastructure.”
Speaking about what the alliance sees as the wider implications of carrying HFO, Dr Prior 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. It is not only the lives of the passengers and crew at stake, but also 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.
“In addition to the risk to lives, most of these vessels will be powered by oil-based fuels including heavy fuel oil, which pose a grave risk to the Arctic environment, and to the livelihoods of local indigenous people. A spill of HFO is likely to take from months to years to be completely cleaned up.”
Norway has banned HFO use in national park waters around the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. Dr Prior urged “With work on a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil from Arctic shipping currently under development by IMO, now is the time for Arctic cruise industry players to come clean on the fuels they are using, move away from HFO, and to sign up to the Arctic Commitment, which calls on businesses and organisations to step forward and call for a phase-out of polluting HFO from Arctic shipping.”
130 shipping companies, cruise operators, ports, businesses, explorers, non-governmental organisations and politicians have put their name to the Arctic Commitment, an initiative calling for a ban on heavy fuel oil for Arctic shipping,since its launch in January 2017.
Conceived by the Clean Arctic Alliance and expedition cruise ship operator Hurtigruten, the Arctic Commitment aims to protect Arctic communities and ecosystems from the risks posed by heavy fuel oil and calls on IMO to ban its use and carriage as fuel by Arctic shipping.