Arctic Council - Senior Arctic Officials Meeting (Juneau, Alaska) - Polar Code developments

Arctic Council – Senior Arctic Officials Meeting
Juneau, Alaska, 8-9 March 2016
Speech by Kitack Lim, Secretary-General
International Maritime Organization

Polar Code developments

Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all let me say how pleased I am to have been invited to attend this meeting of Senior Arctic Officials and to say a few words to you about IMO’s Polar Code. I welcome the opportunity to continue the good collaboration and communication between our two organizations that was given great impetus when you invited my predecessor to this same meeting in 2014.

He said at that the time that strong links between IMO and the Arctic Council could only be beneficial, and I would like to say that I strongly agree with that sentiment and look forward to continuing to play my part in that process.

From IMO’s perspective, much has happened since 2014. Most significantly, the Polar Code has been finalized and has entered into force. I’ll say more about that in a few moments, but first I’d just like to place our work on the Polar Code in context.

We have all seen the forecasts that shipping activity in polar regions is set to grow in volume and diversity over the coming years. Receding sea ice is opening up these regions to both commercial shipping and tourism.

So-called “eco-tourists” are drawn by the breathtaking beauty of the landscape, the chance to encounter some unique wildlife, and the sheer majesty of glaciers and icebergs.

For ships carrying commercial cargo, northern sea routes offer the chance to considerably reduce journey distances between Europe and the Far East and thereby save on fuel, workforce and other operational costs.

And the opportunities presented by the energy and mineral resources in the Arctic are both impossible to ignore and another source of increased maritime traffic.

It cannot be denied that such economic development and increasing commercial activity in the Arctic region are controversial topics.

There is an understandable and instinctive reaction, shared by many, against opening up one of the world’s last remaining wilderness areas to exploitation. “Why can’t we just leave it alone?” is the question many people ask.

But the reality, of course, is that we cannot turn back a rising tide. The fact is that commercial activity and economic development in the Arctic are increasing, and increasing rapidly. The real issue is not whether this is a good thing. The real issue is how we meet these challenges without compromising either safety of life at sea or the sustainability of the polar environment.

At IMO, our interest is maritime activity. But our role is not to debate whether or not increased maritime activity is desirable. Our role is to ensure that the ships and people which do operate in the Arctic – and the Antarctic – are safe, and that their impact on the environment is minimal.

The safety of ships operating in the harsh, remote and vulnerable polar areas and the protection of the pristine environments around the two poles has always been a matter of concern for IMO and there have been measures in place that specifically address operations in polar regions for several years.

However, with more and more ships navigating in polar waters, IMO has moved to address international concern about the protection of the polar environment and the safety of seafarers and passengers with the introduction of the mandatory Polar Code, for ships operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters. It entered into force on 1 January 2017 and it is, without doubt, the single most important initiative to establish appropriate safety and environmental regulation for polar shipping. 

And it is important to remember that the Polar Code requirements, which were specifically tailored for the polar environments, go above and beyond those of existing IMO conventions such as MARPOL and SOLAS. All the extensive safety and environmental regulations included in these and other IMO conventions are applicable globally and will still apply to shipping in polar waters. But the Polar Code adds an additional layer on top, specifically for ships operating in these areas.

As you know very well, operating ships in Polar waters presents unique challenges. Poor weather conditions and the relative lack of good charts, communication systems and other navigational aids can pose serious problems. And, if accidents do occur, the remoteness of the areas makes rescue or clean-up operations difficult and costly.

Extreme cold may reduce the effectiveness of numerous components of the ship, including deck machinery and emergency equipment. And when ice is present, it can impose additional loads on the hull and propulsion system.
To address these issues, the Polar Code sets out mandatory standards that cover the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training and environmental protection matters that apply to ships operating in the waters surrounding the two poles.

Among the Code’s mandatory safety requirements are protective thermal clothing, ice-removal equipment, enclosed lifeboats and the ability to ensure visibility in ice, freezing rain and snow conditions. The regulations extend to the materials used to build ships intended for polar operation, and all tankers under the Code will have to have double hulls. From an environmental perspective, the code prohibits or strictly limits discharges of oil, chemicals, sewage, garbage, food wastes and many other substances.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Polar Code will make operating in these waters safer, helping to protect the lives of crews and passengers. It also strives to minimize the impact of ship activity on this fragile environment.  

But it should not be seen as the end of the process. There is still a need for further cooperation and collaboration in a number of areas. The maritime infrastructure must be further developed and strengthened.

The provision of navigational charts; the establishment of search and rescue facilities under the GMDSS; a comprehensive network of icebreaker support; the availability of port reception facilities and the provision of Maritime Safety Information all need to be addressed in parallel with the implementation of the Polar Code by the shipping community.

And the application of the Polar Code to non-SOLAS ships, in particular fishing vessels, also needs to be considered with some urgency. Operating in polar waters is no less challenging for these vessels – indeed it may be more so, given their size.

Ladies and gentlemen, as receding sea ice opens up new opportunities for an emergent Arctic economy, the Polar Code is providing a strong regime to minimise the negative impact of shipping operations on the pristine polar regions. I firmly believe that history will look on it as a major achievement in IMO’s work to promote safe and sustainable shipping in all regions of the world, including the most challenging and difficult.

Thank you.