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Polar Code provisions outlaw oily, ‘noxious’ discharges in icy waters

Oct 2, 2015 03:53 PM
In North America, the Polar Code regulations apply to areas north of latitude 60° N. That includes waters off Alaska’s west coast, the Northwest Passage and the entrance to Hudson Bay. Discharging oily waste will be prohibited, and there are restrictions on garbage disposal.

Pat Rossi illustration/Source: IMO

In North America, the Polar Code regulations apply to areas north of latitude 60° N. That includes waters off Alaska’s west coast, the Northwest Passage and the entrance to Hudson Bay. Discharging oily waste will be prohibited, and there are restrictions on garbage disposal.

The Polar Code has taken one more important step closer to implementation, as maritime regulators have approved the environmental aspects of the new rule.

Ships larger than 5,000 gross tons will not be allowed to discharge oil or certain chemicals in the defined polar zones, according to regulations approved in May by the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee.

Discharges of sewage and garbage are restricted in accordance with amendments to the International Convention of the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) that require a certain distance from ice, the IMO said.

The Polar Code, which passed in 2014, will present a new set of navigational, safety and environmental standards for ship operators as the provisions go into effect in 2017 and 2018. The safety practices were codified in November 2014 as amendments to the International Convention of the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). In North America, the new Polar Code standards generally apply to voyages above longitude 60° N. The Arctic Circle is at about 66° N.
 
Now that the global SOLAS and MARPOL standards have been defined, maritime operators are looking forward to clarification of the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) aspect, said Scott Craig, Crowley Maritime’s director of marine development and compliance. In addition, operators need to know the specifics of how flag states, classification societies and insurers will react to the Polar Code.
 
“The key is how it’s going to be applied,” said Craig, who was an adviser to the U.S. Coast Guard delegation. “Overall, in general, what we see right now is not too concerning. Many of these things were standards of care for the vessel operators already operating in the Arctic. As the ice retreats, all of a sudden we’re talking about (encountering) the type of operators who have never been there before.”

Like most operational aspects of the Polar Code, the environmental rules go into effect Jan. 1, 2017.
 
“Discharge into the sea of oil or oily mixtures from any ship is prohibited. Oil fuel tanks must be separated from (the) outer shell,” the IMO said in a statement. “Discharge into the sea of noxious liquid substances, or mixtures containing such substances, is prohibited.”

Among the longtime operators monitoring Polar Code rulemaking is Crowley, which has served Alaska since 1953. The company offers ship management, heavy-lift, ocean towing and salvage as far north as Prudhoe Bay.

“We do not discharge any petroleum products, sludge or anything else in the Arctic or anywhere else,” Craig said. “There is tighter language around the discharge of garbage, especially food slops and food waste, (governing) how far you are away from ice, and this might be new to some of the operators, and they may need to manage their waste stream in a more conservative manner.”

Construction rules governing ice-classing of vessels go into effect for newbuilds on Jan. 1, 2017. Ships built before that date will need to meet the requirements as of their first intermediate or renewal survey after Jan. 1, 2018.
 
That means classification societies are preparing now. The IMO’s language specifically references the International Association of Classification Societies’ Unified Requirement for Polar Class Ships, which harmonizes ice-class rules for hull structures and machinery. The American Bureau of Shipping said it will publish guidance in a document called “Advisory Note on the Polar Code” by late 2015. The book will offer compliance advice to operators.

Ships traveling through the icy zones will need to apply to their flag state for a polar ship certificate. For voyages, the vessel must prepare a polar water operational manual, which is customized based on the time of year, location, ice conditions and emergency survival needs.

“Someone who’s going into the high Arctic in late fall is going to need a different polar operations manual than someone who is going into Churchill in August,” said James Bond, ABS shared technology director. The grain port at Churchill, Manitoba, is below longitude 60° N, but Churchill-bound ships temporarily transit Polar Code-regulated waters to enter Hudson Bay.

Recognizing that Coast Guard emergency responders may be headquartered great distances from ships in distress, the IMO requires that polar voyage planning addresses survival needs including crew training, lifeboats, clothing, ice removal and fire safety. Casualty response can take as long as five days in the Arctic.

“The expected time of rescue for the area of operation is a very important consideration,” Bond said. “It’s making sure there are adequate provisions on board if they need to spend time in a lifeboat.”

The regulations require ship operators to obtain real-time information about ice conditions in their path. The Alaska Marine Exchange intends to provide related services, said Capt. Ed Page, the Juneau-based exchange’s executive director. Page’s group already provides 120 automatic information system (AIS) receivers and long-range satellite tracking. It has begun adding real-time weather stations to the AIS service.

“We’re definitely going to be engaged more and more in the Polar Code and see where we can help,” Page said. “Implementation is going to be tricky, I think — how to get information to the mariners and what are the conditions that they will face on their particular voyage at that particular time. How thick is the ice and what class do I need to survive in these conditions?

“There are going to be requirements,” Page said, “and we’ll just have to live with them.”

The next steps for North Americans will be flag-state rulemaking processes expected within the next few months by the U.S. Coast Guard and Transport Canada. The U.S. Coast Guard’s Alaska district last year formed the Arctic Waterway Safety Committee to make recommendations. Internationally, STCW amendments will be considered in February 2016 that will specify ship officers’ ice-navigation qualifications.

“There is still some finalization around the crew certification to come, and we will be watching closely for the grandfathering provision,” Crowley Maritime’s Craig said.

While U.S. and Canadian domestic regulations are sometimes already stronger than the global Polar Code requirements, participants see value in working together to bring the international fleet up to standard by 2017, he said.

“Nobody wants to see a disaster up there,” Craig said. “It would hurt commerce. It would hurt indigenous people.”

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