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International Maritime Organization Adopts Polar Code

by Jason Gorringe,, London

27 November 2014

An international code to protect ships and their crew from the harsh environment of the polar regions has been adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (the Polar Code), together with related amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS), make it compulsory for operators to ensure that their vessels are constructed to a standard to cope with transits through polar regions and have appropriate safety equipment in place to protect seafarers from freezing temperatures and extreme weather events.

Other hazards facing seafarers navigating these dangerous waters include the relative lack of good charts and gaps in communication systems and other navigational aids.

The Polar Code is intended to cover the full range of shipping-related matters relevant to navigation in waters surrounding the two poles, including: ship design, construction, and equipment; operational and training concerns; search and rescue; and the protection of the environment and eco-systems of the polar regions.

The Code will require ships intending to operate in the defined waters of the Antarctic and Arctic to apply for a Polar Ship Certificate, which would classify vessels using the existing "Polar class" classification system: a Category A ship, designed for operation in polar waters at least in "medium first-year ice" (Polar Class 5 in the seven-category scale, with PC 1 representing year-round operation in all polar waters); a Category B ship, being a vessel not included in category A, designed for operation in polar waters in at least "thin first-year ice" (Polar Class 7); or a Category C ship, being a ship designed to operate in open water or in ice conditions less severe than those included in Categories A and B.

Ships would also need to carry a polar water operational manual, to provide the owner, operator, master, and crew with sufficient information regarding the ship's operational capabilities and limitations in order to support their decision-making process.

As global trade volumes continue to grow, it is forecast that the number of cargo vessels transiting through or near polar waters will increase in the years ahead.

The Polar Code and SOLAS amendments were adopted during the 94th session of IMO's Maritime Safety Committee, held in London from November 17 to 21. The expected date of entry into force of the SOLAS amendments, which will make the Polar Code mandatory, is January 1, 2017, and will apply to new ships constructed after that date. Ships constructed before January 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 January 1, 2018.

TAGS: marine

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