In May 2017, Finland started it´s two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council. On last Thursday, Finnish Transport Safety Agency Trafi organised together with the Arctic Council PAME WG an international Polar Code conference as part of Finland’s Chairmanship programme. At this conference, the Arctic Council member states, seafarers and industry representatives shared their experiences of Polar Code implementation during the first year of its enhancement.
The objective of the Polar Code adopted by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which entered into force at the beginning of 2017, is to improve the safety of ships operating in the Polar waters and to reduce their harmful impacts on the environment. The Polar Code thus imposes more stringent safety and environmental regulations on ships sailing in the Polar waters than in other sea areas. A key objective of the conference was to discuss the challenges associated with implementing these regulations.
Vessels flying the Finnish flag have navigated through the Arctic waters in ice conditions to such destinations as Greenland, ports on the north coast of the Russian Federation, and the Far East through the Northeast Passage. In addition, Finnish ships have also sailed to the Antarctica.
“Finland considers the implementation of the Polar Code to be very important, and thus the Finnish Transport Safety Agency organised the International Conference on Harmonized Implementation of the Polar Code in Helsinki on 22 February 2018 as part of Finland’s Chairmanship programme for the Arctic Council”, explains Anita Mäkinen, Chief Adviser at the Agency.
“One of the keynote speakers at the conference, Mr. Kitack Lim, the Secretary General of IMO , praised Finland for the extremely good timing of the conference, as IMO has now started preparing phase II of the Polar Code”, says Tuomas Routa, Director General of Maritime Sector at the Finnish Transport Safety Agency.
Anita Mäkinen sums up the achievements of the conference: ”As a prominent challenge in Polar Code implementation was identified the fact that maritime administrations and shipping companies interpret differently the requirements under the Polar Code; in other words, the regulations were seen as leaving excessive scope for interpretation.
Responding to crew training requirements related to ice navigation was also brought up as a challenge. As Finland is one of the few countries in the world with ice navigation expertise, the two Finnish maritime academies , Aboa Mare and Satakunta University of Applied Sciences showcased their offer of relevant educational supplies and exchange programs in winter navigation and the Polar Code requirements at the conference venue.
In Artic waters, where distances are long, search and rescue operations (SAR) in case of emergencies were experienced as a particular challenge. The Polar Code requires ships to have lifesaving equipments that guarantee the survival of evacuated crew members and passengers for five days. However, tests carried out by Norwegian actors indicate that compliance with this provision of the Polar Code is more or less impossible. Inadequate satellite monitoring of the Arctic areas was highlighted as another challenge.”
”We will continue to investigate the challenges that were brought up, and on the basis of the findings Finland is planning to prepare a submission to one of the IMO meetings”, Anita Mäkinen continues.
The other keynote speaker at the conference was Professor Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). In addition, high representatives of Russia, Norway, the USA and Canada shared their experiences of Polar Code implementation. The conference attracted some 130 participants from Arctic Council member states: the USA, Canada, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Denmark, but also from many observer countries, including China, Japan, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Germany. Representatives of the European Commission and the Artic Council Secretariat also attended the conference.
In addition to maritime administrations, the shipping industry and stakeholders were represented at the conference, including the umbrella organisation of cruise operators, Cruise Lines International Association. “Cruises in the Arctic waters are becoming more popular, and ensuring the safety of cruisers transporting thousands of passengers is essential”, Anita Mäkinen points out.
The Polar Code sets out stricter safety and environmental regulations for ships operating in the Polar waters than those applicable in other marine areas. There are also provisions concerning the training and certification of crew members. The regulations on crew training and qualifications will enter into force at the beginning of July 2018.
The Polar Code is composed of two parts: ship safety and protecting the environment. Both of these are further divided into mandatory measures and recommendatory provisions.
The provisions on safety in the Polar Code concern matters such as the structures, intact stability, damaged stability, machinery, fire safety, lifesaving, navigation and radio equipment, safe operation, and crew training and certification requirements.
Ships operating in the polar areas must be sufficiently ice strengthened when navigating in ice-covered areas, as well as meet other technical requirements set out in the Code.
Each ship must have a Polar Water Operational Manual (PWOM) which gives further information on its operational capabilities and limitations. Any operational limitations of a ship must also be presented in the Polar Code Certificate.
The Environmental Chapter of the Polar Code sets out stricter environmental regulations than the MARPOL Convention does in other sea areas, for example, concerning the discharge of oil and oily waters and chemicals or their mixtures into the sea. Any such discharges are prohibited in Arctic waters defined in the Polar Code. The rules are much stricter than that applicable to the Baltic Sea.
The discharge of black water, or sewage, and solid waste close to the edge of a glacier or ice sheet is regulated more strictly in the polar waters.
The Environmental Chapter of the Code also contains recommendatory provisions on the use of non-toxic biodegradable lubricants or water-based systems outside the underwater hull, implementation of the Ballast Water Management Convention before its entry into force, and minimise biofouling in icy conditions.
Chief Adviser to the Director General of Maritime Sector, Dr. Anita Mäkinen, tel. +358 40 162 4592, email: anita.makinen (at) trafi.fi