A collision between a tanker and the jetty at the Port of Rotterdam – Europe’s biggest seaport – resulted in a heavy fuel oil (HFO) spill leaving researchers questioning what, if this happened in the Arctic, the risks to Arctic ecosystems would be.
Despite the immediate mitigation actions taken by the crew of the vessel and resources on-shore, 217 tonnes of HFO are estimated to have spilled from the fuel tank at the Rotterdam port. If a spill of this scale were to happen in the Arctic, the Clean Arctic Alliance argue that the risks to Arctic ecosystems would be much greater.
Dr Sian Prior, Lead Adviser for the Clean Arctic Alliance, said: “This is an environmental disaster for the local area and a stark reminder of the need to urgently ban the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil by Arctic shipping to prevent similar disasters happening in the Arctic.”
Clean up operations and the Arctic
According to the Clean Arctic Alliance, a clean-up operation is underway, and efforts are being undertaken to rescue oiled birds, but it seems likely that not all affected animals will be saved.
Reports indicate that over 1,000 birds have so far been affected by the oil, including hundreds of swans which have been taken to a nearby bird sanctuary for treatment once the birds have been stabilised.
If such a disaster struck in the Arctic, it is unlikely that an adequate response could be put in place due to its remoteness, meaning that the risks to Antarctic ecosystems would be amplified.
The limited availability of equipment and personnel to recover the oil, the absence of safe holding or disposal locations for recovered oil, and the complete absence of wildlife rehabilitation facilities mean that an effective response would be virtually impossible. Depending on the local conditions, oil spill response equipment might not be suitable, and oil could get stuck under sea ice and travel long distances before it seeps out again, with no prediction as to where that will happen.
Prior concluded: “A HFO spill is a tragedy anywhere in the world, and our thoughts are with those mounting the wildlife rescue and clean-up operations in the Netherlands,” adding: “This residue of the oil refining process should be banned for use in ecologically sensitive areas, including the Arctic, in order to minimise the risk of environmental damage in the event of a spill.”