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The Polar Code comes into place

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Implementation of the Polar Code is scheduled to take place in January 2017. Michael Kingston says all concerned parties including operators, flag states, insurers, financial markets, and port state control must be educated about its provisions.

Michael Kingston is an expert on Arctic risk and the Polar Code. He is working with PAME’s Shipping Expert Group on the Arctic Marine Best Practice Information Forum. This article originally appeared in The Circle 03.16. See all issues here.

The Polar Code is a binding international framework to protect the two Polar Regions from maritime and environmental risks. It is being implemented through amendments to the three cornerstone International Maritime Organisation Conventions that deal with Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), pollution (MARPOL, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships), and Crew Training and Certification (STCW). This means that it has avoided the delays familiar with other standalone Conventions that take years to ratify. The Polar Code is therefore an example of what we can achieve before a major disaster occurs – but it will only be as effective as we make it through education and enforcement. We all have a duty to assist in that process. Ensuring all concerned parties are aware of the rules lessens the risk of a third party or a rogue operator causing an environmental crisis in a sensitive place like the Arctic.

Determining the potential worst case scenario needs to be explained in the Operator’s Polar Waters Operation Manual, which must include information such as hydrographical data, meteorology, crew training, communication, ice charting, etc. Getting the best standards for these inputs would equate to navigational safety, and help educate all decision makers in the stages of the process. This can best be accomplished by inviting the experts in these navigational inputs, (for example the World Meteorological Organisation, the Inter-national Ice Charting Working Group, Indigenous knowledge etc.) together with operators, flag states, insurers, financial markets, and port state control – to participate in an annual forum to explain the latest developments in their specific areas of expertise. This forum, the Arctic Marine Best Practice Information Forum would require that each participant be responsible for gathering the latest developments on a cross-jurisdictional basis and for updating the forum. It is also recommended participants maintain an up-to-date website with the best standards as they are created and evolve. The ultimate aim would be a “go to” site for the best information, practices and procedures on a continual basis as well as a place to find out how to make productive further enquiries. Currently, that knowledge is lacking – put simply, people do not know where to get reliable information. The Arctic Council working group – Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) – unanimously backed further investigation into the proposal for an annual forum and work is currently being carried out by their Shipping Expert Group to achieve this. It is hoped that the proposal will then be recommended to the Senior Arctic officials from each Arctic State for each country to endorse this.

Clearly this is a great opportunity for the Arctic Council to show how it is working with industry and the International Maritime Organization. It is also refreshing to see the leadership being shown by PAME and representatives from other involved Arctic Council Groups. It should be noted that at an important meeting on Arctic shipping in Seattle, Washington earlier this year, a number of NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund, the Pisces Foundation, Pacific Environment, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Ocean Conservatory, the Oak Foundation and Climateworks unanimously backed this proposal in principle.

It is possible that, with supreme effort, such a forum could be established in time for the April 2017 handover of the Arctic Council Chairmanship from the US to Finland. Of course the Polar Code comes into force as of January, 2017 so this effort is extremely timely and important.

It is also heartening to see this level of cross-jurisdictional collaboration across the Arctic between governments, industry, NGOs, Indigenous peoples and other players working to promote the correct atmosphere and actions concerning marine operations, the impact of which can ultimately be broadened to operations currently not covered by the Polar Code such as fishing and leisure craft.

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