New polar agreement signed as shipping in Arctic predicted to increase

The amendments to the SOLAS Convention will come into force in 2017

By Moushumi Sharma
Published: Monday 24 November 2014

Increased shipping activity in the polar regions could pave the way for more accidents involving ships and Arctic animals

The International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s Maritime Safety Committee signed the Polar Code and other amendments to the Safety of Line at Sea (SOLAS) Convention at a meeting in its London headquarters on November 21. The measure was taken as a precaution to protect people and the environment as shipping has been predicted to increase in the Arctic.

An IMO press release says that the Polar Code covers the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue and environmental protection matters relevant to ships operating in waters surrounding the two poles. But, according to a report of The Guardian, environment groups say the committee has failed to address key issues, including a proposed ban on heavy fuel oil. However, the Polar Code highlights the potential hazards of operating in polar regions, including ice, remoteness and rapidly changing and severe weather conditions, the press release states.

“More and more people are going to be in the Arctic for one reason or another. In the future, there may be (more) fishing vessels... There will be more and more tourism. There will be more and more commerce,”Evan Bloom, director of the US State Department’s Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs, told The Guardian.

According to the multinational financial company Allianz, Russia predicts a 30-fold increase in shipping by 2020. China, meanwhile, has suggested that by 2020, 5-15 per cent of its trade value, which is close to US $500billion, could pass through the Arctic.Sven Gerhard, head of hull and marine liabilities for Allianz, told The Guardian that these predictions may be exaggerated. But he admitted that there are going to be more shipping accidents in the Arctic.

Currently, ships trading in the polar regions have to comply with all relevant international standards adopted by IMO, but Chapter 15 of the newly adopted  SOLAS Convention, “Safety measures for ships operating in polar waters”, adds additional requirements by making the Polar Code mandatory. The Guardian further mentions that the new Polar Code will require ships to develop a Polar Operations Manual for each voyage, which is then reviewed and approved within the flag state.

The proposed amendments are expected to be ratified by next year and will come into force in 2017.

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