The IMO’s “Polar Code” came into force on 1 January 2017. These new international regulations are designed to protect the Arctic and Antarctic from pollution by shipping. Global warming means that there is less ice and that ships can therefore take polar routes for longer each year.
The international code for vessels operating in polar waters has been drawn up by the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO). The new rules link up with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL).
Global warming means that northern shipping routes remain navigable for more of the year. As the ice in Arctic waters melts, more ships are taking these routes because they are shorter. That saves both time and fuel. Lower fuel consumption is beneficial as regards climate change, but that advantage is negated by the negative impact on the local environment, for example by soot emitted by ships that settles on the ice.
A total ban on the use of heavy fuel oil in these sensitive areas would help, but that is not provided for in the Polar Code. Such a ban does apply in Antarctic waters but not in the Arctic. However the Polar Code does curtail the discharge of plastics, waste water, and food waste.
Polar Ship Certificate
The Polar Code is not only intended to protect the North and South Poles and Arctic and Antarctic waters. It is also intended to improve the safety of ships, their crews, and their passengers. Amongst other things, it comprises requirements for ship design, crew training, and on-board equipment, including safety and survival facilities.
Ships that wish to pass through polar areas need to hold a Polar Ship Certificate. There are three categories (A, B, and C), indicating the ice thickness and ice conditions in which the ship is permitted to operate. Amongst the factors considered are the strength of the ship’s structure, its stability and the equipment on board, but also measures to prevent oil pollution and the treatment of rubbish and waste water.