Russia Grabs All Shipping In Arctic Circle

Russian Federation is requiring vessel owner/operators to submit the Polar Code Certificate as part of their application for a permit to transit the NSR.

International Maritime Organization (IMO), to which the United States is a party, has moved to address international concern about the protection of the polar environment and the safety of seafarers and passengers with the introduction of new regulations that all ships operating in these harsh and challenging waters must comply with. To address all these issues, the Polar Code sets out mandatory standards that cover the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training and environmental protection matters that apply to ships operating in the inhospitable waters surrounding the two poles.

The mandatory Polar Code, for ships operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters, enters into force on 1 January 2017, marking a historic milestone in the work of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to address this key issue. Its requirements, which were specifically tailored for the polar environments, go above and beyond those of existing IMO conventions such as MARPOL and SOLAS.

The Polar Code includes mandatory provisions covering safety measures (part I-A) and pollution prevention measures (part II-A) and additional guidance regarding the provisions for both (parts I-B and II-B).

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

The environmental provisions of the Polar Code apply both to existing ships and new ships.

The Polar Code will require ships intending to operate in the defined Arctic waters and the Antarctic area to apply for a Polar Ship Certificate, which would classify the vessel as either:

* Category A – ships designed for operation in polar waters in at least medium first-year ice, which may include old ice inclusions

* Category B – a ship not included in category A, designed for operation in polar waters in at least thin first-year ice, which may include old ice inclusions

* Category C – a ship designed to operate in open water or in ice conditions less severe than those included in categories A and B.

Before receiving a certificate, a ship would require an assessment, taking into account the anticipated range of operating and environmental conditions and hazards it may encounter in the polar waters.

Ships will 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.

The chapters in the Polar Code set out goals and functional requirements specifically covering: ship structure; stability and subdivision; watertight and weathertight integrity; machinery installations; fire safety/protection; life-saving appliances and arrangements; safety of navigation; communications; voyage planning; manning and training; prevention of pollution by oil; control of pollution by noxious liquid substances in bulk; prevention of pollution by harmful substances carried by sea in packaged form; prevention of pollution by sewage from ships; and prevention of pollution by garbage from ships.

The Polar Code and SOLAS amendments were adopted during the 94th session of IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), in November 2014; the environmental provisions and MARPOL amendments were adopted during the 68th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) in May 2015.

The United States supported the Polar Code and is currently working on implementing the requirements.

The Russian Federation also supported the Polar Code.  It is not surprising that they would require a Polar Code Certificate as part of their NSR permit application.

Here is the IMO website on the Polar Code:

Having said that, there are issues with some parts of the Russian NSR regulations and whether they are consistent with international law, especially as they relate to navigation rights and freedoms.

There are concerns with requiring a permit to transit the NSR at all. A permit is not consistent with freedom of navigation within the exclusive economic zone, the right of innocent passage in the territorial sea, and the right of transit passage through straits used for international navigation. There are also some concerns with the scope of the NSR and whether they extend into the high seas.

By: Dr. Mark Seidenberg – Chairman, State Department Watch