Polar Code: Arctic Operators’ Experiences

The International Conference on Harmonized Implementation of the Polar Code took place on 22 February 2018 in Helsinki, Finland. The conference was attended by maritime administrations, the shipping industry and other stakeholders. The Chair of the AEC Maritime Transportation Working Group, Mr. Mikko Niini, was allocated a commentary at the afternoon session of the conference.

Mr. Niini started by expressing his gratitude to Ambassador Aleksi Härkönen, current Chair of Arctic Council Senior Arctic Officials (SAO), who in his keynote speech opened up the current challenges of the Arctic Council with regards to general question how to address maritime issues. Mr. Niini especially welcomed the Arctic Council SAO Chair’s reminder of the last year’s Fairbanks declaration: “The Arctic Council and its Working Groups would benefit from closer cooperation with the Arctic Economic Council in many areas, including maritime transport and connectivity. This is also the wish expressed by the Ministers last year.”

Continuing on the Arctic shipoperators’ experiences related to the implementation of the Polar Code, Mr. Niini reminded that 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 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) 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 those 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 minimize biofouling in icy conditions.

Mr. Niini reported to the Conference that based on a quick member survey, most of the Arctic Economic Council (AEC) owner members are already in the process of preparing for the Polar Code documents and certification. Quite many had let the individual ships’ bridge teams to take the task, searching for all the necessary information and in this way establishing a true learning process. The Arctic Council Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group’s effort with the Polar Code Best Practices Information Forum is therefore very welcome. The biggest challenge appeared to be the survival equipment as equipment meeting the requirements does not exist readily. This has raised the fear that interpretations might be different by different authorities.

The AEC Maritime Transportation Working Group members expressed also a concern regarding whether a certificate could serve two different operating regions (e.g. Canadian Arctic vs. Russian Arctic) or whether it would be better for a vessel to have two different certifications.  Some reported that they are simply buying the documentation from class advisory services, which, according to Mr. Niini, leaves the crew’s own commitment and understanding very thin. The biggest challenge is to understand the prevailing ice conditions and have staff ability to react to them. This needs huge amount of training.

With more than 60 ships-of-opportunity approaching e.g. the Canadian Arctic next summer and with more than 30 expedition cruise liners under construction, Mr. Niini questioned who would have the necessary training resources?

Having served as the CEO of Aker Arctic, Mr. Niini has a strong background as an Arctic ship technology developer. Therefore he also was emphasized the technological learning process. He praised Mr. Victor Olersky of Russian Ministry of Transport having made old ice damage statistics available for analysis. This has led to improved ice class regulations and improved structural and operational safety – today used e.g. in the Yamal LNG project.

Mr Niini’s final proposal to the Conference was that ice incident and damage reporting to the authorities should be made compulsory for the operators in the next phase of Polar Code. This would safeguard the continuation of the current good technological development for improved Arctic safety.