IMO Update: Shipping in polar waters

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Friday, January 31, 2014

Development of an international code of safety for ships operating in polar waters (Polar Code).


IMO is developing a draft mandatory International Code of safety for ships operating in polar waters (Polar Code), to 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 work is being co-ordinated by the  Sub-Committee on Ship Desgin and Construction (SDC)  - formerly the  Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Equipment (DE).
 
At its first session (20 to 24 January 2014), the SDC Sub-Committee agreed in principle to the draft text of the mandatory International Code for ships operating in polar waters (Polar Code) and also agreed in principle to proposed draft amendments to IMO’s safety and pollution prevention treaties to make it mandatory.
 
The Sub-Committee agreed in principle to a draft new chapter XIV “Safety measures for ships operating in polar waters”, of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), to make the Code mandatory, for forwarding to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), which next meets in May 2014, for consideration.
 
Also, proposed draft amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), to make the Polar Code mandatory under Annexes I (prevention of pollution by oil), II (noxious liquid substances), IV (sewage) and V (garbage) were also agreed, in principle, for forwarding to the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), which next meets end of March/beginning of April,
 
The draft chapter of the Polar Code relating to training and manning will be referred to the Sub-Committee on Human Element Training and Watchkeeping (HTW), which meets in February 2014, for further review, while the draft chapters on fire protection/safety and life-saving appliances will be referred to the Sub-Committee on Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE), which meets in March.  The draft chapters on Safety of navigation and Communication will be referred to the Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communication and Search and Rescue (NCSR) in June/July.  All three Sub-Committees will report on their work to the MSC and MEPC.
 
The Polar Code is intended to cover the full range of shipping-related matters relevant to navigation in waters surrounding the two poles – ship design, construction and equipment; operational and training concerns; search and rescue; and, equally important, the protection of the unique environment and eco-systems of the polar regions.
 
Agreement in principle has been reached on definitions for the different categories of ship to be covered by the Code, as follows:
 

  • Category A ship means a ship capable to operate at least in medium first-year ice which may include old ice inclusions in accordance with an ice class at least equivalent to those acceptable to the Organization.
  • Category B ship means a ship capable to operate in sea ice conditions other than those included in Category A with an ice class at least equivalent to those acceptable to the Organization.
  • Category C ship means any ship which is not a Category A or Category B ship.

 
It has been agreed that that all ships operating in polar waters should have a Polar Ship Certificate and a Polar Water Operation Manual.
 
As instructed by the main committees, it has been agreed that the Polar Code would be adopted by separate MSC and MEPC resolutions, with amendments to mandatory instruments to be developed to make the Code mandatory. This would also impact on the structuring of the Code.
 
A Polar Code correspondence group is contiuing the work.
 
Background
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.
 
Trends and forecasts indicate that polar shipping will grow in volume and diversify in nature over the coming years and these challenges need to be met without compromising either safety of life at sea or the sustainability of the polar environments.
 
Ships operating in the Arctic and Antarctic environments are exposed to a number of unique risks.  Poor weather conditions and the relative lack of good charts, communication systems and other navigational aids pose challenges for mariners.  The remoteness of the areas 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.  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 (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 Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Construction (SDC) (previously Ship Design and Equipment) is coordinating the work, reporting to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) and Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) .
 
The move to develop a mandatory Code follows the adoption by the IMO Assembly, in 2009, of Guidelines for ships operating in polar waters (Resolution A.1024(26)), which are intended to address those additional provisions deemed necessary for consideration beyond existing requirements of the SOLAS and MARPOL Conventions, in order to take into account the climatic conditions of Polar waters and to meet appropriate standards of maritime safety and pollution prevention. The Guidelines are recommendatory.
 
Whilst Arctic and Antarctic waters have a number of similarities, there are also significant differences.  The Arctic is an ocean surrounded by continents while the Antarctic is a continent surrounded by an ocean.  The Antarctic sea ice retreats significantly during the summer season or is dispersed by permanent gyres in the two major seas of the Antarctic: the Weddell and the Ross.  Thus there is relatively little multi-year ice in the Antarctic.  Conversely, Arctic sea ice survives many summer seasons and there is a significant amount of multi-year ice.  Whilst the marine environments of both Polar seas are similarly vulnerable, response to such challenge should duly take into account specific features of the legal and political regimes applicable to their respective marine spaces.
 
Protection of the Antarctic from heavy grade oils

A new MARPOL regulation, to protect the Antarctic from pollution by heavy grade oils, was adopted by the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), at its 60th session in March, 2010. The amendments entered into force on 1 August 2011.

The amendments add a new chapter 9 to MARPOL Annex I with a new regulation 43 which prohibits the carriage in bulk as cargo, or carriage and use as fuel, of: crude oils having a density at 15°C higher than 900 kg/m3; oils, other than crude oils, having a density at 15°C higher than 900 kg/m3 or a kinematic viscosity at 50°C higher than 180 mm2/s; or bitumen, tar and their emulsions.
 
An exception is envisaged for vessels engaged in securing the safety of ships or in a search and rescue operation.
 
Voyage planning in remote areas

The IMO Assembly in November 2007 adopted resolution A.999(25)  Guidelines on voyage planning for passenger ships operating in remote areas, in response to the growing popularity of ocean travel for passengers and the desire for exotic destinations, which  have led to increasing numbers of passenger ships operating in remote areas. When developing a plan for voyages to remote areas, special consideration should be given to the environmental nature of the area of operation, the limited resources, and navigational information.
 
The detailed voyage and passage plan should include the following factors: safe areas and no-go areas; surveyed marine corridors, if available; and contingency plans for emergencies in the event of limited support being available for assistance in areas remote from SAR facilities.
 
In addition, the detailed voyage and passage plan for ships operating in Arctic or Antarctic waters should include the following factors: conditions when it is not safe to enter areas containing ice or icebergs because of darkness, swell, fog and pressure ice; safe distance to icebergs; and presence of ice and icebergs, and safe speed in such areas.

Ship reporting in the Arctic region

The MSC, at its 91st session in November 2012, adopted a new mandatory ship reporting system "In the Barents Area (Barents SRS)" (proposed by Norway and the Russian Federation).   The new mandatory ship reporting system will enter into force at 0000 hours UTC on 1 June 2013.  The following categories of ships passing through or proceeding to and from ports and anchorages in the Barents SRS area are required to participate in the ship reporting system, by reporting to either Vardø VTS centre or Murmansk VTS centre: all ships with a gross tonnage of 5,000 and above;  all tankers;  all ships carrying hazardous cargoes; a vessel towing when the length of the tow exceeds 200 metres; and any ship not under command, restricted in their ability to manoeuvre or having defective navigational aids.

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