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Ships operating in polar regions


The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), 86th session: 27 May - 5 June 2009 approved revised Guidelines for ships operating in polar waters, for concurrent approval by MEPC 59 and subsequent adoption by the Assembly in late 2009.

The draft Guidelines for ships operating in Polar waters were agreed by the Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Equipment (DE) when it met for its 52nd session. The guidelines are based on the Guidelines for ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters, which have been substantially updated and extended to also cover the sea area off the Antarctic.

The draft guidelines will be submitted to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) and Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) for approval, and then forwarded to the IMO Assembly, at its 26th session to be held in late 2009, for adoption.

The earlier Guidelines (MSC/Circ.1056 - MEPC/Circ.399) were approved in 2002. Since then, the sea area off Antarctica has become an attractive destination for a growing number of cruise ships. Ships operating in both the Arctic and Antarctic environments are exposed to a number of unique risks, with poor weather conditions and the relative lack of good charts, communication systems and other navigational aids posing challenges for mariners. 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 and, when ice is present, it can impose additional loads on the hull, propulsion system and appendages.

The draft guidelines include chapters on construction; equipment; operations (including crewing); and environmental protection and damage control.

It is intended that application of the guidelines should be encouraged for all ship types and sizes, where appropriate, and should apply to existing ships as far as is reasonable and practicable, as well as to new ships.

The Sub-Committee also agreed to consider the further development of the guidelines in the form of a Code for ships operating in Polar waters, which could, eventually, be made mandatory.

 

Ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters

IMO has approved Guidelines for ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters issued as MSC/Circ.1056/MEPC/Circ.399 in December 2002.

Ships operating in the Arctic environment 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. 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.

The Guidelines for ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters are intended to address those additional provisions deemed necessary for consideration beyond existing requirements of the SOLAS Convention, in order to take into account the climatic conditions of Arctic ice-covered waters and to meet appropriate standards of maritime safety and pollution prevention. The Guidelines aim to promote the safety of navigation and to prevent pollution from ship operations in Arctic ice-covered waters, and are currently recommendatory.

Not all ships which enter the Arctic environment will be able to navigate safely in all areas at all times of the year. A system of Polar Classes has therefore been developed to designate different levels of capability. In parallel to the development of the Guidelines, the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) has developed a set of Unified Requirements which, in addition to general classification society rules, address all essential aspects of construction for ships of Polar Class.

Meanwhile, the Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Equipment (DE), at its 50th session in March 2007, commenced work on developing amendments to the Guidelines for ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters to make them applicable to ships operating in the Antarctic Treaty Area.

 

Extension of the Guidelines to ships operating in the Antarctic

The Sub-Committee on ship Design and Equipment (DE), at its 50th session in March 2007, began work on developing amendments to the Guidelines for ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters to make them applicable to ships operating in the Antarctic Treaty Area.

In addition to the inclusion of provisions relating to operation of ships in the Antarctic region, it was agreed that the Guidelines also needed to be generally updated in order to take into account technical developments since their approval in 2002, especially with regard to damage stability, double bottoms and the carriage of pollutants in spaces adjacent to the outer hull. The update should also consider the particularities of the Southern hemisphere with regard to environmental and port State control issues and should take account of the IACS Unified Requirements for polar ships and the Finnish ice navigation rules.

The Sub-Committee noted the view that special consideration should be given to passenger ships that only visit the Polar regions in summer.

At its 51st session in 2008, the Sub-Committee continued work on developing amendments to the Guidelines for ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters (MSC/Circ.1056 - MEPC/Circ.399), so that they are also applicable to ships operating in Antarctic waters.

It was agreed that a complete revision of the guidelines was necessary and a correspondence group was established to prepare draft revised guidelines for submission to the Sub-Committee's next session.

 

Navigational warning and search and rescue

The Sub-Committee on Radiocommunications and Search and Rescue (COMSAR), in liaison with the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), is in the stage of developing new areas in Arctic waters for the expansion of the World Wide Navigational Warning Service to provide navigational, metrological and other (including Search and Rescue) information. This is with regard to the increased use of the Arctic region by all elements of the maritime community; commercial, military, scientific and recreational, and the need for the Arctic Ocean to be respected as the other temperate oceans and navigated with similar concern for the presence of hazards to navigation.

Meanwhile, the IMO Assembly in 2007 adopted resolution A.999(25) Guidelines on voyage planning for passenger ships operating in remote areas.

 

Guide for cold water survival

The Maritime Safety Committee, at its 81st session in May 2006, provided enhanced guidance for passenger ships operating in cold water areas by approving the Guide for cold water survival (MSC.1/Circ.1185).