Finnish Transport Safety Agency
"International Conference on Harmonized implementation of the Polar Code"
Helsinki, 22 February 2018
Keynote address by IMO Secretary‑General Kitack Lim
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here and I should like to offer my sincere thanks to the Finnish Transport Safety Agency for organising this important and timely event.
We all know that shipping in polar waters has been the subject of much discussion and differing views for some time now. At one end of the spectrum, there are those who advocate severe restrictions, even bans on shipping activity, in order to preserve the pristine environment; while, at the other end of the scale, there are those who see nothing but the opportunity for commercial gain.
Many people ask "Why can't we just leave these areas alone?" But the truth is, we cannot turn back a rising tide.
At IMO, the Member States deal in realities. And the reality is 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. In the north, the transit time – and therefore voyage costs - between Asia and Europe can be dramatically reduced by taking an Arctic route; and, in the South, the growing phenomenon of eco-tourism is bringing more and more activity to Antarctica, where tourists are drawn by the breath-taking beauty of the landscape, the chance to encounter some unique wildlife, and the sheer majesty of the glaciers and the icebergs.
So the real issue is not whether this activity is a good thing. The real issue is how do we manage this activity so that we protect the environment and safeguard the lives of people who live in, work in and visit such remote areas.
As we know, IMO addressed international concern about the polar environment and the safety of polar shipping by introducing new binding regulations that all ships operating in these harsh and challenging waters must comply with – the Polar Code.
The Polar Code entered into force on 1 January 2017. It 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 inhospitable waters surrounding the two poles.
This is a powerful tool for safeguarding the environment and protecting the lives of seafarers and passengers in those challenging regions. So what are its main strengths?
Although some of the Code is recommendatory, it also has a mandatory element. This is not just a set of guidelines, it's a set of requirements.
And then, it's important to remember that the Polar Code enhances existing IMO requirements such as MARPOL and SOLAS to ensure protection in the unique and harsh polar environment. All the extensive safety and environmental regulations included in these and other IMO conventions still apply to shipping in polar waters. Shipping is inherently dangerous and the polar areas take this to another level. The Polar Code addresses and minimises these additional risks.
The Polar Code is not just about safety, and it's not just about the environment, either. It's about both. From IMO's perspective, it was developed and adopted by both the main technical committees, the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in charge of maritime safety and the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) in charge of protection of the marine environment, and made mandatory by amendments to both main conventions addressing these matters, SOLAS and MARPOL. That's a measure of just how important and how strong the Polar Code is.
Another strength – the Polar Code is goal-based. Let me explain briefly: technology today has opened a new world for designers and researchers and, as a result, IMO Member Governments have started approaching safety from this completely new perspective – one that is goal and performance oriented, rather than the traditional "prescriptive" approach.
Prescriptive regulations tend to be a representation of past experience and, as such, become less and less relevant over time. They can even hold back technically innovative designers from being able to properly address future challenges. But the goal-based approach taken in the Polar Code provides latitude and freedom for the development of new technologies and ideas but within the context of agreed, mandatory objectives. As a result, the Code is well placed to keep pace with lessons learned and the latest developments.
And we must not forget that, once in force, instruments like the Polar Code can and will be regularly reviewed, amended and adjusted to reflect changing considerations, new concerns and of course experience gained in its practical application – another strength. The Polar Code is, in effect, a living document.
We are already seeing evidence of this. For example, the Marine Environment Protection Committee is working on additional measures to reduce risks of using and carrying heavy fuel by ships in Arctic waters; and identifying the most appropriate measurement and control methods to reduce the impact of black carbon emissions from international shipping in the Arctic.
The Maritime Safety Committee is dealing with any consequential work arising from the Polar Code. This includes, but is not limited to, reviewing testing and performance standards for life-saving appliances in relation to the Polar Code requirements; developing additional guidance for fire‑extinguishing media for use in Polar temperatures; and considering radiocommunication requirements.
For IMO, the entry into force of the Polar Code was something of a landmark. The safety of ships operating in the harsh, remote and vulnerable polar areas and the protection of the pristine environments around the two poles have always been a matter of concern for IMO. Many relevant requirements, provisions and recommendations have been developed over the years but the Polar Code is a flagship safety and environmental protection measure - the end result of several years of dedicated work to bring it to fruition.
But, as this conference will examine and explore, the entry into force of the Code is not the end of the process - the focus now must turn to implementation and, if necessary, further development.
We know that the Code applies to ships and therefore the responsibility for implementation lies primarily with flag States; and that flag States generally have well‑established and functioning systems to ensure compliance through inspection, survey and certification.
But let us not be blind to the difficulties associated with implementation in such remote areas. The polar regions are often a long way from Port State Control and maritime patrols – and I have no doubt we will hear more during this conference about the unique challenges of implementing and enforcing the Polar Code.
Looking further ahead, we see opportunities to strengthen or expand the Polar Code.
There are areas which the Polar Code does not currently cover.
For example, once experience has been gained with the Code for SOLAS ships, it is likely that a second phase will begin, looking at application for non-SOLAS ships – and this could include fishing vessels, pleasure yachts, and cargo ships under 500 GT. Craft such as this are just as vulnerable as larger ships and the people aboard them deserve equal standards of protection. The matter is on the agenda of the forthcoming ninety-ninth session of the MSC in May of this year and we are expecting interesting and intensive discussions.
There is also a clear need to improve regional and national infrastructure to support increased shipping activities. For example, a spill of heavy fuel oil has been identified as one of the most dangerous threats posed to the Arctic by increased shipping. But the capacity to respond to oil spills in the Arctic is not strong, due to the region's remoteness, harsh conditions, and lack or absence of oil spill response facilities.
The same could be said about the infrastructures and facilities for search and rescue, distress communication, accurate chart information, aids to navigation, towage and salvage, port reception facilities and so on.
So these are some of the issues that we may see Member States raising in the future - even if not specifically with regard to the Polar Code itself, then almost certainly in the context of maritime activity in polar regions.
One thing I will add in this context is that, whatever proposals may or may not be brought to the table, I am convinced of the importance and the value of listening to indigenous peoples.
Increased maritime activity has an obvious potential for significant impact on the Arctic indigenous peoples and communities who depend on the marine environment for food; and for whom hunting, fishing, and other traditional ways of life are central to the survival of their culture.
During my time as Secretary-General I have had, so far, the privilege on a number of occasions to meet the leaders and representatives of Arctic indigenous peoples, and I have told them I feel strongly that their voices should be heard. I hope you share that conviction.
In conclusion, let me once again thank the Finnish Transport Safety Agency for organising this meeting. The importance of the subject is reflected in the strong selection of high-level speakers attending this event – and I am fairly sure that it's not just the delights of Helsinki's weather in February that has attracted them all!
I wish the Government of Finland every success as it continues its period as Chair of the Arctic Council for a second year – and I look forward to continued cooperation between IMO and the Council. Protecting the unique polar environments while enabling sensitive and appropriate human interventions in those regions is a significant challenge – but one in which we must all play our part.
Whether or not ships should be allowed into the polar regions is a moot point. Whether we like it or not, they are already here. But one thing everyone should agree on: if they are going to come, the ships should be safe, the people on board them should be protected and their impact on the environment should be as small as possible. And that is the job that IMO's Polar Code is doing.