By Captain David (Duke) Snider, FNI FRGS

The IMO’s mandatory International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code) came into effect in January 2017. How does the Polar Code make the playing field of Arctic Shipping different? The biggest difference is the mandatory nature of this new IMO instrument. After a series of voluntary polar shipping guidelines that have existed since the 1990s, the Polar Code is the first mandatory IMO instrument focused on shipping in the Arctic and Antarctic. The new Code sets in place baseline goal-based standards for design, construction, operation and crewing, and environmental protection measures for ships operating in Polar Waters. In the coming months, governments will be required to bring their national regulations and requirements into line with the Polar Code. Transport Canada is currently in the process of doing exactly that, consulting with stakeholders on changes to the Arctic Shipping Pollution Prevention Regulations to enable compliance with the Polar Code onboard Canadian ships and in Canadian waters.

The International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters is not a stand-alone IMO Code or Convention. Rather, it is enabled through the amendment of a number of other Conventions. The two primary enabling instruments are MARPOL for matters relating to pollution prevention and SOLAS for matters relating to equipment, outfitting etc. STCW puts in place the mandatory requirements for matters relating to crew training and certification which makes things a little more complicated for those affected by the Code. Operators cannot simply refer to the Polar Code itself alone, but must also make reference to the various Convention amendments that enable it.

In some ways, the Polar Code will change much for operators not familiar with sailing in Polar Waters. For those familiar and accustomed to such voyages, the requirements in the Code are for the most part already in place. As many experienced in polar navigation will say, it is not the regular players that need prompting or direction, but the newcomers to Arctic and Antarctic world of shipping.

Polar Ship Categories

At this time, the Code will apply only to SOLAS vessels. The Code breaks down ship types into three categories that are used within the Code itself to determine what requirements must be met. Category C recognizes that it is possible for many ships to find themselves operating within the geographic limits to which the Code applies, but in potentially ice free seasons or regions. As these vessels are not likely to encounter sea ice in their voyages, they are not required to meet some of the more rigorous requirements laid out for those that do. Category A and B ships will be required to meet most of the Code requirements, while Category C ships have less stringent requirements.

Category A – designed to operate in polar waters in at least medium first year ice (70-120cm thick) that may include old ice.

Category B – ships not included in Category A designed to operate in polar waters in at least thin first-year ice (30-70cm thick) that may include old ice inclusions

Category C – ships designed open water (areas in which ice may exist in concentrations less than 1/10th) or less severe ice conditions than Category A and B.

Polar Code Format

The Polar Code itself consists of both mandatory and recommendatory provisions divided into two parts. Parts I-A and II-B cover safety and pollution prevention mandatory measures while parts I-B and II-B provide the safety and pollution prevention recommendatory provisions.

Part I-A Safety

Chapter 1 General

Chapter 2 Polar Water Operational Manual

Chapter 3 Ship Structure

Chapter 4 Subdivision and Stability

Chapter 5 Watertight and Weathertight Integrity

Chapter 6 Machinery Installations

Chapter 7 Fire Safety/Protection

Chapter 8 Life-saving Appliances and Arrangements

Chapter 9 Safety of Navigation

Chapter 10 Communication

Chapter 11 Voyage Planning

Chapter 12 Manning and Training

Part II-Pollution Prevention Measures

Chapter 1 Prevention of Pollution by Oil

Chapter 2 Control of Pollution by Noxious Liquid Substances

Chapter 3 Prevention of Pollution by Harmful Substances Carried by Sea in Packaged Form

Chapter 4 Prevention of Pollution by Sewage from Ships

Chapter 5 Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships

The safety measures required under the Code are in place to account for the extremes and differences encountered by ships in the Polar regions, such as the lack of infrastructure, harsh weather, dominant ice and lack of hydrographic surveys in many areas. The Code seeks to deal these additional factors with focus on enhanced safety requirements such as increasing subdivision and watertight integrity, adding more robust or additional machinery, fire and safety and lifesaving equipment requirements. Part I-A also addresses additional navigational safety arrangements, measures to mitigate issues related to less reliable communications, additional requirements in voyage planning and the training and experience required of certain members of the crew.

Within the pollution prevention measures, notable is a complete ban on discharge of oil and oily mixtures, noxious liquid substances and harmful cargo residues within Polar Code waters of the Arctic and Antarctic. Some ships will be required to ensure fuel oil is separated from the outer shell in certain ice conditions. Though sewage discharge is not prohibited, enhanced regulations on sewage discharge dictate minimum distances from ice that appropriately treated sewage can be discharged. Food wastes cannot be discharged onto ice.

Significantly absent from the Code were prohibitions on Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) and black carbon discharge and grey water discharge. Given the increased activity at IMO to put in place further restrictions in HFO use globally, this is likely to change sooner than later.

Polar waters ships will be required to have a valid Polar Ship Certificate issued by the Administrations.

Coming into Force

The actual dates of compliance to various Polar Code components is not fixed on 01 January 2017 and there is a grace period for existing ships for elements related to construction and equipment. The Code will apply to all new ships constructed on or after 01 January 2017, existing ships have until their first intermediate or renewal survey (whichever comes first) after 01 January 2018 to comply. The provisions related to crew training and certification under Chapter 12 Manning and Training will not come into force until at least 01 January 2018 due to the later approval of the STCW amendments that enable these provisions. The elements that have immediate effect are those related to the pollution prevention measures outlined in Part II.

The Future of the Polar Code

Due to the rapid move to put the new Code into place, a number of more complex issues were put aside to gain the needed flag state consensus. Even as the Code was approved, many involved made it clear that it did not go far enough to protect ships, crews or the environment. A number of classification societies, insurers and administrations have issued guidance documents to either explain how the Code would be rolled out, or how their own regulations and requirements would continue to require standards above those laid out in the Code. Citing the absence of any meaningful requirement for competence in ice operations in Chapter 12 of the Code, The Nautical Institute is putting in place an Ice Navigator training accreditation and certification scheme.

Discussions are ongoing within IMO to deal with outstanding issues, in particular HFO/Black Carbon bans and other environmental protection provisions. It is expected that applicability will be extended to vessels other than SOLAS in future amendments. Until then we can expect coastal states to maintain more stringent safety and pollution prevention requirements in national regulation even while revamping those regulations to more closely comply with the Polar Code format.

The Polar Code is a tremendous step forward in putting in place the first mandatory requirements for ships operating in Polar Waters. Though by no means perfect, and to many far too weak and lacking in tough measures that should be required, it is an excellent foundation.

Captain David (Duke) Snider, FNI FRGS, is CEO and Principal Consultant, Martech Polar Consulting Ltd., and President, The Nautical Institute.