New Polar Code for cruising in the high latitudes

Yacht Vagabond in Arctic waters - photo by Eric Brossier
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Thinking of sailing to the Arctic or Antarctic any time soon? Then you'll need to know about the new 'Polar Code', being developed for ships and yachts. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is developing a draft mandatory 'International Code of Safety for Ships Operating in Polar Waters'. It will be referred to as the Polar Code.

The new code will cover the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue, and environmental protection matters relevant to ships and yachts operating in the remote waters surrounding the two poles.

Why is the IMO creating this new code? The safety of ships operating in the harsh, remote, and vulnerable polar areas and the protection of the pristine environments around the two poles has always been a matter of concern for the IMO. Many relevant requirements, provisions and recommendations have been developed over the years. However, they have been fragmented.

Trends and forecasts indicate that polar shipping, including leisure visits by passenger ships and yachts, will grow in volume. Those visits will diversify in nature over the coming years. These challenges need to be met without compromising either safety of life at sea or the sustainability of the polar environments.

Ships and yachts operating in the Arctic and Antarctic environments are exposed to a number of unique risks. Poor weather conditions and the relative lack of good charts, communication systems and other navigational aids pose challenges for mariners. The remoteness of the areas makes rescue or clean up operations difficult and costly. Cold temperatures may reduce the effectiveness of numerous components of the ship, ranging from deck machinery and emergency equipment to sea suctions.

And when ice is present, it can impose additional loads on the hull, propulsion system and appendages.

While the Arctic and Antarctic waters have a number of similarities, there are also significant differences. The Arctic is an ocean surrounded by continents while the Antarctic is a continent surrounded by an ocean. The Antarctic sea ice retreats significantly during the summer season or is dispersed by permanent gyres in the two major seas of the Antarctic. Thus, there is relatively little multi-year ice there.

Conversely, Arctic sea ice survives many summer seasons and there is a significant amount of multi-year ice. Additionally, the marine environments of both polar seas are similarly vulnerable, but the response to such challenge should duly take into account specific features of the legal and political regimes applicable to their respective marine spaces.

At its first session in January, an IMO committee agreed to the draft text of the mandatory Code and agreed, in principle, to proposed draft amendments to the IMO’s various safety and pollution prevention treaties to make the code mandatory.

Also agreed to were proposed draft amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), to make the Polar Code (Introduction and part II-A) mandatory under the associated annexes. Those being:

* Annex I (prevention of pollution by oil);

* Annex II (noxious liquid substances);

* Annex IV (sewage); and

* Annex V (garbage).

The code would require ships and yachts intending to operate in the defined waters of the Antarctic and Arctic to apply for a Polar Ship Certificate. This certificate would classify the vessel in one of several categories:

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

Category B, ships not included in category A, designed for operation in polar waters in at least thin first-year ice, which may include old ice inclusions; and

Category C, ships designed to operate in open water or in ice conditions less severe than those included in Categories A and B.

The issuance of a certificate would require an assessment, taking into account the anticipated range of operating conditions and hazards the ship or yacht may encounter in the polar waters. The assessment would include information on identified operational limitations. It will also include plans, procedures and/or additional safety equipment necessary to mitigate incidents with potential safety or environmental consequences.

The chapters in the code each set out goals and functional requirements to include: ship structure; stability and subdivision; watertight and weathertight integrity; machinery installations; operational safety; fire safety and protection; life-saving appliances and arrangements; safety of navigation; communications; voyage planning; manning and training; prevention of oil pollution; prevention of pollution from noxious liquid substances from ships; prevention of pollution by sewage from ships; and prevention of pollution by discharge of garbage from ships.

Ships and yachts would need to carry a Polar Water Operational Manual. This document will provide the yacht with sufficient information regarding her operational capabilities and limitations in order to support the captain’s decision-making process.

When developing a plan for voyages to remote areas, special consideration should be given to the environmental nature of the area of operation, the limited resources, and navigational information.

The detailed voyage and passage plan should include the identification of safe areas and no-go areas; surveyed marine corridors, if available; and contingency plans for emergencies in the event of limited support from search-and-rescue facilities. It must also address conditions when it is not safe to enter areas containing ice or icebergs because of darkness, swell, fog and pressure ice; safe distance to icebergs; and presence of ice and icebergs, and safe speed in such areas.

As we have already seen in the yachting world, owners want to visit locations away from the usual stomping grounds. Yachting has expanded exponentially throughout the Pacific islands and into the remote waterways of South America. It is only a natural progression for yachts, and their owners, to desire a literal visit the 'ends of the earth.'

The author Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (IYB), an organization that provides flag-state inspection services to yachts on behalf of several administrations. A deck officer graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, he previously sailed as master on merchant ships, acted as designated person for a shipping company, and served as regional manager for an international classification society. Contact him at +1 954-596-2728 or www.yachtbureau.org.

About The Triton:
The Triton offers information and news for captains of yachts and their crews. It is an independently owned monthly newspaper in print and via the internet, which targets the professional men and women who earn their livings working on luxury yachts, with its news reaching around the globe from Fort Lauderdale in the USA. Its news covers every aspect of the yachting world. For more information or to become a subscriber, go to www.the-triton.com
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