Ensuring Safe, Secure & Reliable Shipping in the Arctic Ocean

Ships operating in the polar 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.

2014.03.14 - Ensuring Safe, Secure & Reliable Shipping in the Arctic Ocean

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.

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.

Over the last 20 years or so, IMO has developed a raft of requirements, guidelines and recommendations regarding navigation in polar waters, relating to maritime safety (construction, search and rescue, navigation, life-saving, etc.) and marine pollution prevention (designation of special areas, carriage of heavy fuel oil, etc.) as well as certification and qualification of seafarers on ships operating in polar areas.

The following gives a quick overview of the currently available provisions, with a brief outline of the requirements of the instruments in question.

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

  • Part XII (Protection and preservation of the marine environment), Section 8 (Ice-covered areas), Article 234 (Ice-covered areas), states that “coastal States have the right to adopt and enforce non-discriminatory laws and regulations for the prevention, reduction and control of marine pollution from vessels in ice-covered areas within the limits of the exclusive economic zone2, where particularly severe climatic conditions and the presence of ice covering such areas for most of the year create obstructions or exceptional hazards to navigation, and pollution of the marine environment could cause major harm to or irreversible disturbance of the ecological balance. Such laws and regulations shall have due regard to navigation and the protection and preservation of the marine environment based on the best available scientific evidence.”

International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974

  • SOLAS chapter V navigational requirements. The only requirements in the SOLAS Convention directly relating to polar areas are contained in SOLAS chapter V (Safety of navigation).
  • Stability requirements for ships operating in areas with ice accretion. Part B of the Code (Recommendations for certain types of ships and additional guidelines) contains in chapter 6 (Icing considerations) provisions for ships operating in areas where ice accretion is likely to occur which would adversely affect a ship’s stability and provides that icing allowances should be included in the analysis of conditions of loading.
  • Guidelines for ships operating in polar waters. The Guidelines aim at mitigating the additional risk imposed on shipping due to the harsh environmental and climatic conditions existing in polar waters.
  • Development of a mandatory Code for ships operating in polar waters. Immediately after finalisation of the above Guidelines, MSC 86 considered proposals by Denmark, Norway, United States and the DE Sub-Committee to further develop them and create a mandatory Polar Code.
  • Guide to cold water survival. The Guide explains in particular bodily reactions to cold air and water exposure, informs about body heat loss, insulation and hypothermia, gives recommendations on what to do in the case of ship abandonment in cold waters and advises on the treatment of immersion survivors. It also contains useful checklists for cold water survival and for rescuers.
  • Enhanced contingency planning guidance for passenger ships operating in areas remote from SAR facilities. The guidance recommends that SAR co-operation planning arrangements should be enhanced for ships operating in areas remote from SAR facilities.
  • Guidelines on voyage planning for passenger ships operating in remote areas. The Guidelines recommend that, for ships operating in Arctic or Antarctic waters, the usual detailed voyage and passage plan should include additional factors, such as knowledge of ice and ice formations; current information on the extent and type of ice and icebergs in the vicinity of the intended route etc.
  • IACS requirements for Polar Class ships. The UR-I consist of three parts, I1 (Polar Class description and application), I2 (Structural requirements for Polar Class ships) and I3 (Machinery requirements for Polar Class ships) and the Polar Class notation is used throughout to convey the differences between classes with respect to operational capability and strength.

International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto (MARPOL)

  • Special areas under MARPOL Annexes I and V.
  • Use and carriage of heavy grade oil.
  • Oil spill response in ice and snow conditions.

International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978

  • Training guidance for personnel serving on board ships operating in polar waters. The newly adopted guidance stresses the importance for officers in charge of a navigational watch and officers in charge of an engineering watch on board ships operating in polar waters to have sufficient and appropriate experience in operating ships in polar waters.
  • Measures to ensure the competency of masters and officers of ships operating in polar waters.

Torremolinos Protocol of 1993 to the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1977 (Torremolinos Protocol)

  • Chapter III (Stability and associated seaworthiness), regulation 8 (Ice accretion), contains requirements for icing allowances to be made in stability calculations and provides that fishing vessels operating in areas where ice accretion is known to occur should be designed to minimize the accretion of ice and should be equipped with means for removing ice.

Code of safety for fishermen and fishing vessels, 2005

  • Part A of the Code advises that the formation of ice on a vessel is dangerous and should be reduced by all practicable means.
  • Part B of the Code contains in chapter III (Stability and associated seaworthiness), section 3.8 (Ice accretion), provisions for icing allowance to be made in stability calculations for fishing vessels operating in areas where ice accretion is likely to occur.

Voluntary Guidelines for the design, construction and equipment of small fishing vessels

  • The Guidelines, also not mandatory, apply to fishing vessels between 12 m and 24 m in length and contain provisions regarding ice accretion and the combating of ice formation.

In conclusion 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. The IMO membership is ready to meet these challenges, following the motto of IMO: safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans.

The above is a summary from a paper by Dr. Heike Deggim, Maritime Safety Division, IMO. Plenty of additional information are contained in the paper by clicking HERE.

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