After several years of negotiations the IMO (International Maritime Organization), the United Nations shipping organization, completed a mandatory international code that regulates shipping in Arctic and Antarctic waters. The so-called Polar Code is supposed to improve the safety of shipping and the protection of the environment in the polar regions.
The Polar Code is a set of regulations concerning ship design, construction and equipment, operational and training matters, search and rescue and the environment in the polar regions. Environmental protection regulations include for example the prevention of pollution by prohibiting any discharge into the sea of oil, noxious liquid substances, sewage and garbage. A general prohibition of heavy fuel oil as cargo or fuel, as demanded by environmental organizations, could not be implemented. A heavy fuel oil ban already exists in the Antarctic since August 2011 and was implemented in several steps in large parts of Spitsbergen.
The geographical boundaries in which the Polar Code will be valid, include the entire Antarctic waters south of 60º S and the Arctic waters north of 60º N with some modifications in the North Atlantic: Included is an area south of Greenland. Excluded are, in the influence zone of the North Atlantic Current, the waters around Iceland, Norway and the Russian Kola Peninsula including the route to Arkhangelsk.
The Polar Code is built on two older existing agreements of the IMO: The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulates safety matters and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) regulates environmental protection matters in maritime shipping. In addition to these general agreements the IMO developed special guidelines in 2002 and 2009 for the polar regions which, however, were not binding. The new Polar Code will now for the first time establish a mandatory, international set of regulations for ships operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters.
The implementation of a binding agreement was initiated by the Arctic states USA, Norway and Denmark (Greenland). The negotiation process took many years and was finally delayed, as the differing interests of the United Nations shipping states had to be equalized. Environmental organizations criticize the delay and are currently pointing at deficits concerning environmental protection matters. On the other side there are still objections of some states being involved into the process. Especially Russia sees the Polar Code as a threat to its interests in the Arctic. Currently Russia for example gains profit from the increasing traffic on the Northern Sea Route.
According to the IMO´s timetable the Polar Code can be adopted at a meeting in May 2015 and then, after being ratified by the member states, finally enter into force in 2017.
See also Spitsbergen-Svalbard.com news IMO: polar code not before 2015 from March 2012.
Cruise ship, expedition ship and governmental icebreaker in Antarctica: the IMO Polar Code will cover all of them.
Source: IMO, Sjøfartsdirektoratet