Expert Risk Articles

Polar Code will need to keep pace with changing risks

The International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (the Polar Code) was adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2014 and entered into force on 1 January, 2017.


The number of shipping incidents in Arctic Circle waters is down year-on-year but risks remain. Photo: iStock.

The Polar Code, which amends a number of existing conventions, including the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the
International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), is a far-reaching set of rules, covering the design and operation of vessels operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters, as well as crewing and environmental protection. Shipping in such waters poses a number of risks, such as a lack of hydrographic study, the year-round ice factor and the ability for salvagers to respond in the event of an incident.

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Shipping on the Northern Sea Route across the top of Russia was up by more than a third last year, according to the Northern Sea Route Information Office. Total traffic exceeded seven million tons, a figure that is expected to grow ten-fold to 75 million tons by 2025 [i].

Meanwhile, the Northwest Passage, north of Canada, has also seen pioneering transits in recent years. Last year the Crystal Serenity became the first large luxury liner to transverse the Northwest Passage. But traffic remains limited due to ice conditions.

The Polar Code should raise the bar for ships operating in the extreme Arctic environment and help mitigate the risks. However, it will need regular updates to adapt to changes in risk and ice conditions. “Given the fragility of the Polar environment, the code will need to be regularly reviewed and updated. In the
past it has taken too long to update safety and environmental regulations, and this needs to be streamlined,” says Kinsey.

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The analysis shows there were 55 reported shipping incidents in Arctic Circle waters during 2016, down over 20% year-on-year. Machinery damage/failure was the cause of almost 60% of incidents, driven by the harshoperating environment. Over a third of incidents involved fishing vessels.

“When operating in a harsh environment like the Arctic we need to review the lessons learned much quicker than has been the case in the past.”