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Operators with Arctic dreams ramp up to comply with Polar Code

In addition to provisions for vessel design, construction and operations, the IMO’s Polar Code includes guidelines for equipment to protect mariners.

Courtesy IMO

With the International Maritime Organization’s Polar Code now in force, some vessel operators are seeking help to comply with the regulations before taking advantage of new sea routes.

Weather forecasts and shipping trends indicate that polar shipping will grow during the next several years. The IMO noted that commercial shipping can significantly reduce voyage distances between Europe and the Far East by transiting through Arctic waters, and both the Arctic and Antarctic are becoming increasingly popular tourist destinations.

Some operators such as Fednav, which operates dry-bulk carriers in Canadian and U.S. Arctic waters, and the operators of oil field support vessels are experienced in polar seas. These operators have had to implement polar operational manuals but otherwise were already mostly compliant.

“There are a couple of things that perhaps are a little bit more challenging than others, but for most experienced operators this is not changing their operations drastically,” said John Dolny, senior engineer at the American Bureau of Shipping’s Harsh Environment Technology Center in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Although ABS has thousands of ships with ice-class notations, not all of those will operate in polar waters. Dolny expects ABS will assist 20 to 30 ships in complying with protocol.

Martech Polar Consulting Ltd. is working with operators to obtain certificates for newbuilds and existing vessels.

“A lot of companies are beginning to scramble, particularly with the first Arctic season coming up this summer, and we’re getting a number of requests for assistance in developing some of the operational compliance,” said Capt. David “Duke” Snider, a former Canadian Coast Guard officer who is chief executive and principal consultant at Martech.

The safety provisions of the Polar Code apply to new ships constructed after Jan. 1, 2017. Ships constructed before Jan. 1, 2017, will be required to meet the relevant requirements of the Polar Code by the first intermediate or renewal survey, whichever occurs first, after Jan. 1, 2018.

The environmental provisions of the Polar Code apply both to existing ships and new ships. The code requires ships intending to operate in the defined Arctic waters and the Antarctic region to apply for a polar ship certificate, which is categorized by the ice thickness in which the vessel is designed and equipped to operate.

One of the biggest obstacles is the code’s “zero discharge” policy on oil-related waste in polar waters. Training in ice navigation and steering will be required. Ships also must carry sufficient cold-weather lifesaving gear.

Only vessels that intend to operate within the Arctic and Antarctic regions as defined in the Polar Code need to comply with it.

The safety provisions of the Polar Code apply to ships certified under SOLAS — cargo ships of 500 gross tons or more and all passenger ships. This means that fishing vessels carrying MARPOL certificates also will have to comply with the environmental part of the code.

Masters and deck officers will have to meet mandatory minimum requirements for training under the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) and its related code from July 1, 2018, according to Lt. Chris Rabelais of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Because there is a gap between the Polar Code’s entry into force and the adoption of the amendments to the STCW Convention and STCW Code by the IMO, the Coast Guard has provided guidance to ensure that there are sufficiently trained mariners in the interim. The guidance varies by the ice conditions in which the vessel is expected to operate.

To help vessel operators prepare for polar certification, Martech works with them to uncover gaps between their current safety management systems and the requirements for the Polar Code.

“There are some changes vessels have had to make, but in a lot of ways it’s mostly administrative,” Snider said.

The majority of Arctic operations occur during the summer, so many vessels may be certified for the lowest category of ice operation.

Existing vessels may be challenged in meeting the zero-discharge standard for oily waste; in most waters, it is 15 parts per million. Vessels have several options for meeting the standard, Dolny said, including the installation of onboard storage capacity or routing to south of the 60-degree latitude where the Polar Code no longer applies.

“It’s not a big deal, but for some of the research vessels that have to do extended work it becomes a logistics challenge for operators to comply with that regulation,” he said.

While some operators may be drawn to polar routes to save on fuel costs or to cut transit times, it’s not an easy transition to make.

“We’ve talked with operators who heard that an ice-free Arctic means shorter routes and they’ll save millions, but then they found out they’re not necessarily going to make a lot more money because they’ll have to spend money to be in compliance,” Snider said.

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