According to NOAA, the Arctic region in 2017 was even warmer, showing no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades


Remarkable developments

In 2017, Russia and China agreed to jointly build an ‘Ice Silk Road’ along the NSR as part of the “Belt and Road Initiative". In 2017, Russia and China agreed to jointly build an ‘Ice Silk Road’ along the NSR as part of the “Belt and Road Initiative".  In 2013, the multi-purpose cargo ship ‘Yong Sheng’, transited the Northern Sea Route.  Four years later, the tanker ‘Christophe de Margerie’, world’s first heavy ice-class liquefied natural gas carrier, crossed the same route without an icebreaker escort.  Also, in 2013, the navigation season on the Northern Sea Route recorded a significant rise of vessels taking the Arctic short cut between Europe and Asia. Namely, a total of 71 vessels passed via the Northern Sea Route in the 2013 navigation season, carrying in total 1,355,897 tons.


Polar Code marks a ‘new era’


In November 2014, the International Code for ships operating in Polar Waters was adopted by the IMO MSC 94. One year later, the IMO MEPC adopted MARPOL amendments while training requirements within the STCW Convention and the Code for officers and crew on board ships operating in polar waters were adopted by MSC in 2016.

In January 2017, the Polar Code entered into force, applying to all ships that operate in Arctic and Antarctic waters to provide recommendations for safe ship operation in favor of the pristine polar environment. The Polar Code addresses the unique risks which are present in polar waters but not covered by other treaties, such as ice, remoteness and rapidly changing and severe weather conditions. Also, the Code provides goals and functional requirements in relation to ship design, construction, equipment, operations, training, and search and rescue, relevant to ships operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters.

The safety part of the Polar Code applies to ships certified under SOLAS, i.e. cargo ships of 500 GT or more and all passenger ships. Ships constructed on or after 1 January 2017 shall comply with the safety requirements. Ship constructed before 1 January 2017 shall comply by the first intermediate or renewal survey occurring after 1 January 2018. All existing and new ships certified under MARPOL shall comply with the environmental requirements as of 1 January 2017.


Polar Code Requirements

The Polar Code consists of an Introduction, and parts I and II. Every ship to which the Polar Code applies must have on board a valid Polar Ship Certificate, which is issued after an initial or renewal survey to a ship which complies with the relevant requirements of the Polar Code. Also, the Polar Code requires ships subject to the Polar Code to carry a Polar Water Operational Manual (PWOM).  Every crew member is required to be familiar with the procedures and equipment contained or referenced in the ship’s PWOM relevant to their assigned duties.

Therefore, shipping organizations need to ensure that Masters, chief mates and officers in charge of a navigational watch on board ships operating in polar waters have completed training to attain the abilities that are appropriate to the capacity to be filled and duties and responsibilities to be taken up, taking into account the provisions of the STCW Convention, 1978, as amended.

Additionally, in order to provide safety of ship and marine pollution from vessels transiting the Arctic regions, vessels that transit Arctic regions may carry onboard a Polar Operations Manual in line with IMO Guidelines, a Polar Contingency Plan, and to ensure that crew is properly trained, Polar Training Manual may be provided onboard in line with POLAR Trading Requirements.


STCW & Polar Code

The Polar Code amendments to STCW will take effect on 1st of July 2018.  The new STCW amendments include transitional provisions which will allow seafarers who began their approved seagoing service in Polar Waters before 1 July 2018 to meet the alternative basic training or advanced requirements by 1 July 2020.

The STCW competency requirements for the Polar Water certification are:

  • contributing to the safe operation and maneuvering of vessels operating in Polar Waters;
  • monitoring and ensuring compliance with legislative requirements;
  • applying safe working practices and responding to emergencies;
  • ensuring compliance with pollution prevention requirements;
  • planning and conducting a voyage in Polar Waters;
  • managing the safe operation of a vessel operating in Polar Waters; and
  • maintaining safety of the ship's crew and passengers and the operational condition of life-saving, firefighting and other safety systems


Post-Polar Code: Discussions continue

ICS and OCIMF have formed a working group to develop a guidance to shipowners on the development of a Polar Water Operational Manual, expected for circulation in 2019. This year, OCIMF released a paper which outlines the challenges and best practices that operators must consider when passing through the Northern Sea Route.

MSC 97 resolved in November 2016 to include consequential work related to the new Polar Code in the 2016-2017 biennial agenda, and the Sub-Committee on Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE) was instructed to  review the LSA Code and relevant IMO resolutions to adapt current resting and performance standards to the Polar Code provisions or develop additional requirements, if necessary, and  to develop guidance on extinguishing media at polar service temperatures and consider any necessary amendments to current standards for firefighting outfits.

In March 2017, SSE re-established the LSA Correspondence Group, with the instruction to include the evaluation of specific equipment, as required, to consider when approving life-saving equipment to be used in polar waters;  identify test and performance criteria for life-saving appliances and arrangements, and also to consider alternative ways to address the work.

To complete this work, SSE 4 requested that MSC extends the target completion year for this output to 2019. A correspondence group was established by SSE 5 in March 2018 to progress the work.

Furthermore, MSC 97 instructed the Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR) to consider current communication requirements in SOLAS and the need for any amendments. The need for a new performance standard for GNSS compasses shall also be considered. NCSR has established a Correspondence Group on this matter in view of finalizing a final version and report at NCSR 6 in 2019.

An interim guidance on methodologies for assessing operational capabilities and limitations in ice (POLARIS) was approved by MSC 96 in May 2016. The guidance is scheduled for revision four years after the entry into force of the Polar Code in order to make any necessary amendments based on experience gained.

Additional performance standards related to Fire safety/protection (Chapter 8) and Life-saving appliances and arrangements (Chapter 9) of the Polar Code are also being considered. There is also an ongoing discussion relating to heavy fuel oil (HFO) use by vessels in Arctic waters.

After the development of the Polar Code, there is a consideration for an instrument to address non-Convention vessels operating in polar waters. MSC 98 agreed in June 2017 that the output to “Safety measures for non-SOLAS ships operating in polar waters” is a matter of urgency and moved this to its agenda for the 2018-2019 biennium.

MSC 99 is expected to take a policy decision regarding the scope of application of this second phase, its mandatory or recommendatory status and types of vessels to be addressed.


HFO use

In recent years, several institutions and organizations worldwide have been calling for an HFO ban in Arctic -especially after an equivalent ban was implemented in Antarctic- which is seen as the most effective means for mitigating the risk of an oil spill and reducing emissions in this fragile environment. The strongly-worded proposal at MEPC 72, in April 2018,  was sponsored by several North European countries and the US, and supported by many others.

As such, MEPC 72 directed the Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) sub-committee to develop text for a ban on the carriage and use of HFO, along with a study of its impact. PPR will meet in February 2019 to carry out this task.

Also, the IMO addresses ways to mitigate the impact of ship Black Carbon (BC) emissions on the Arctic due to the increased traffic in polar routes.  MEPC 68 agreed on a definition for Black Carbon emissions from international shipping and it is acknowledged that higher Black Carbon (BC) emissions from combustion of heavy fuel oil (HFO), can cause ice melting, health risks and shipping incidents.

The IMO has been also tasked with deciding on best methodology for measuring black carbon, and identifying abatement options.


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