Web alert: trading in Polar waters and the Polar Code
03 March 2015
Interest in shipping in the polar environment has gradually been increasing due to changes in climate allowing longer periods of ice-accessible areas, along with the growth of offshore operations. The club appreciates that ship operators trading in the Polar Regions are exposed to a variety of unique risks and also that an environmental balance must be maintained; so a sea voyage in polar areas is a complicated endeavour.
The severe weather conditions and the very low temperatures create difficult conditions for the ship’s operation. The harsh environment affects the efficiency of the ship’s machinery and equipment so crew must be appropriately trained.
The remoteness of the areas along with the inadequate local infrastructure can seriously impede the management of incidents which may arise (such as pollution, salvage etc) and also increase the costs involved. The lack of ports of refuge or bunkering facilities, the poor charts for some parts of the polar areas, and the limited communication networks may create serious problems or compromise any effort to assist the ship and its crew during an incident.
The combination of these factors make the Polar Regions difficult to transit. Members would be expected to comply with recommendations and requirements of the ship’s Classification society and statutory requirements of the flag state.
The two poles have always been a matter of concern to the IMO, so it has developed recommendations for the safety of ships that operate in those sea routes.
The Polar Code and SOLAS amendments were adopted by the IMO in November 2014 and contain both safety and environmental mandatory provisions. The expected date of entry into force of the SOLAS amendments is 1 January 2017. These will apply to new ships constructed after that date. Ships constructed before 1 January 2017 will be required to meet the relevant requirements of the Polar Code by the first intermediate or renewal survey, whichever occurs first, after 1 January 2018. The draft Polar Code includes mandatory measures covering safety (part I-A) and pollution prevention (part II-A) and recommendatory provisions for both (parts I-B and II-B) which would cover the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue and environmental protection matters relevant to owners operating in the two challenging polar waters.
The code would require ships to apply for a Polar Ship Certificate. The ships will be classified as Category A ships when they are designed for operation in polar waters at least in medium first-year ice; Category B relates to ships not included in category A, designed for operation in polar waters in at least thin first-year ice; or Category C for ships designed to operate in open water or in ice conditions less severe than those included in Categories A and B. The ships would also be required to have onboard a Polar Water Operational Manual.
Despite some criticism, mainly over the lack of provisions curtailing the use of heavy fuel oil, the Polar Code is considered a positive step and recognition of the necessity for a high degree of awareness and care when ships navigate in those non-traditional sea routes.
The club expects members contemplating a polar voyage to conduct a thorough risk assessment. Members are also advised to contact the club (in addition to their H&M insurers who will usually operate a geographical exclusion) in order to confirm the position in relation to cover. The club continues to monitor the developments regarding polar shipping and will provide the necessary legal and technical support to our members. Should any questions arise members are encouraged to contact their usual club contact or the author.