Saturday, November 22, 2014

Praise for Adoption of Polar Code for Vessels Operating in the Harshest Conditions

IMO Ratifies Agreed Standards as Expected
Shipping News Feature

ANTARCTIC – ARCTIC – The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has reached a major milestone in its efforts to protect ships and both the seafarers and the passengers on board, with the adoption of the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code), and related amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) to make it mandatory. The Polar Code will apply to both cargo vessels, with a gross tonnage above 500, and to passenger ships. The proposal to adopt the measure was met with praise from international shipping lobbies earlier this year.

Adopted during the 94th session of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), 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 the harsh environment of the waters surrounding the two poles.

The expected date of entry into force of the SOLAS amendments is 1 January 2017, under the tacit acceptance procedure. It will apply to new ships constructed after that date. Ships constructed before 1 January 2017 will be required to meet the relevant requirements of the Polar Code by the first intermediate or renewal survey, whichever occurs first, after 1 January 2018.

Ships trading in the polar regions already have to comply with all relevant international standards adopted by the IMO, but the newly adopted SOLAS chapter XIV ‘Safety Measures for Ships Operating in Polar Waters’, adds additional requirements, by making mandatory the Polar Code (Preamble, Introduction and Part I-A (Safety measures)). Part I-B of the Code sets out additional guidance which are recommendations.

The Polar Code highlights the potential hazards of operating in polar regions, including ice, remoteness and rapidly changing and severe weather conditions, and provides goals and functional requirements in relation to ship design, construction, equipment, operations, training, and search and rescue, relevant to ships operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters.

Because it contains both safety and environment related provisions, the Polar Code will be mandatory under both SOLAS and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). Last month, the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) approved the necessary draft amendments to make the environmental provisions in the Polar Code mandatory under MARPOL. The MEPC is expected to adopt the Code and associated MARPOL amendments at its next session in May 2015, with an entry-into-force date to be aligned with the SOLAS amendments.

Photo: The icy polar waters have trapped vessels, like this whaler, over the centuries.