IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu departs later this week (Thursday, August 15) on a five-day Arctic sea voyage as part of a fact-finding mission to the region.
Mr. Sekimizu will be the guest of the government of the Russia aboard the nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy as she voyages on the Northern Sea Route that links Europe and northern Russia.
Mr. Sekimizu will commence his voyage from the port of Dikson, in the Kara Sea, before undertaking a 1,680 nm trip to Pevek, in the East Siberian Sea. During the voyage, the vessel will transit the Kara Sea, Taymyr peninsula, Shokalsky Strait, Severnaya Zemlya archipelagos, Laptev Sea, Sannikov Strait, Novosibirskie Islands and the East-Siberian Sea.
He will be accompanied on the voyage by high level officials from the Russian government and from the shipping industry, among them Mr. Victor Olerskiy, Deputy Minister of Transport of the Russian Federation, Mr. Vyacheslav Ruksha, Director General of the Federal State Enterprise Atomflot, and Mr. Yury Melenas, the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to IMO.
The trip comes against a background of increasing interest within the global shipping community in utilizing the Northern Sea Route and other northern passages, as Arctic sea ice recedes and the navigation season becomes longer.
During the voyage, Mr. Sekimizu will see, at first hand, the effects of climate change on the sea ice coverage, and assess how the facilities and infrastructure needed for Arctic navigation are being developed along the Siberian coastline of the Russian Federation.
It will also provide an opportunity to discuss related matters such as the logistics and supplies required to support Arctic navigation, the need for special qualifications for ships’ officers operating in the region and for the provision of adequate ice-breaking capability.
The safety of ships operating in the harsh, remote and vulnerable polar areas and the protection of the pristine environments around the two poles have always been a matter of concern for IMO and many relevant requirements, provisions and recommendations have been developed over the years.
Mr. Sekimizu will use the voyage to observe and experience the difficulties inherent in Arctic navigation, such as poor weather conditions and the relative lack of good charts, communication systems and other navigational aids that pose challenges for mariners. The remoteness of the area makes rescue or clean-up operations difficult and costly; cold temperatures may reduce the effectiveness of numerous components of the ship, ranging from deck machinery and emergency equipment to sea suctions and, when ice is present, it can impose additional loads on the hull, propulsion system and appendages.
IMO is currently developing a draft international code of safety for ships operating in polar waters (the Polar Code), which would cover the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue and environmental protection matters relevant to ships operating in the inhospitable waters surrounding the two poles.
The voyage will provide an opportunity not only to assess how existing IMO guidelines on polar navigation are applied and observed, but also to evaluate the effectiveness of requirements under consideration in development of the Polar Code.
With his Russian hosts, Mr. Sekimizu will discuss broader issues related to Arctic navigation, such as the degree and nature of the responsibility borne by coastal States for the maintenance and support needed for such navigation; the implementation of the relevant provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other measures, such as the Polar Code, the potential for offshore exploration and the protection of the unique marine environment in the Arctic Ocean.
2013 seems set to be a record year for maritime activity on the Northern Sea Route. There has been a tenfold increase in the number of vessels using the route during recent years. In 2012, 46 vessels sailed the whole route, compared to 34 in 2011 and only four in 2010.
For Mr. Sekimizu, this mission marks the continuation of a growing first-hand involvement in the complex issues surrounding increased maritime activity in polar waters. In December 2012, he visited Antarctica as a guest of the Government of Chile, and earlier this year experienced ice navigation in northern waters aboard a Finnish icebreaker. He expressed his sincere appreciation to the Government of the Russian Federation for its co-operation and support in organizing this latest visit.