Conservation, Environmental Hazards, Nature

Polar Code to Regulate Arctic Waters

Ship traveling through Arctic waters
The Polar Code is set to regulate shipping in the Arctic.
Image: Shutterstock

Last week, the International Maritime Organization completed its draft of the first-ever binding set of international rules for Arctic shipping. The United Nations has approved the second half of the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (the Polar Code), with the next portion to be reviewed at the May 2015 meeting with the intent to put the Code into practice beginning in 2017.

The Code covers a variety of Arctic issues, including the design, construction, equipment, operation, training, and search and rescue for ships in the Arctic and Antarctic waters. These include:

  • Preventing oil pollution, including discharge restrictions and structural requirements to protect shipments
  • Controlling pollution caused by noxious liquid substances transported in bulk
  • Preventing pollution caused by sewage from ships
  • Restrictions on garbage created by ships passing through the region

Paul Crowley, head of the World Wildlife Fund’s Canadian Arctic Program, celebrated the new code but also pointed out that there are missing elements, including rules for dealing with heavy fuel oils, ship noise, and black carbon emissions.

Russia, on the other hand, was less than pleased with these new environmental measures. They had hoped to gain an exemption for discharge from ships on domestic routes through the Arctic, which tend to be at sea for long periods of time. Deputy Minister of Transportation Victor Olersky urged the International Maritime Organization not to promote “rigid, prohibitive measures that will prevent shipping companies from using the Northern route.”

Despite these concerns, the Code appears to be moving forward. In addition to the rules and regulations about waste disposal, the finalized Code is likely to include a requirement that ships operating in polar waters plan routes around marine mammal habitats by 2017 and be 30% more energy efficient by 2025.


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