Written by Lt. Andrew Gibbons
Last month, the International Maritime Organization, or IMO, approved amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, or SOLAS, moving the process forward for adopting a Polar Code for ships operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters. The U.S. Coast Guard, in collaboration with Department of State, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Defense, leads the U.S. delegation for the development of the Polar Code.
The proposed code includes enhanced safety and environmental regulations to protect Arctic people and the pristine environment and addresses unique risk factors associated with operations in polar waters, including: operations in ice, low air temperatures, remoteness from response resources, limited hydrographic data and the effects of high latitude on communications equipment. Safety chapters in the code specify operational limitations and required certifications based on a ship’s specific risk assessment. The proposed code also outlines requirements for hull strength and increased ship stability for operations in ice as well as operational plans and procedures specific to polar waters. The code also includes additional crew training requirements and equipment standards for life-saving, fire protection, navigation, communications equipment and general machinery requirements based on a ship’s operating profile in ice, low air temperatures, remote areas and high latitudes.
The United States, in cooperation with the Arctic States, has been working on the development of the proposed Polar Code at IMO since 2009. In 2009, the U.S., Denmark and Norway proposed that IMO develop a polar code based on the existing voluntary guidelines. Since 2002, the IMO has published voluntary guidance for ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters and polar waters. Over the course of the next nine months, several meetings will be held at IMO to move the code and amendments through the approval process. The U.S. continues to seek public comments and input through periodic public meetings announced in the Federal Register before all IMO meetings.
The next IMO meeting slated for July 2014 will discuss the Polar Code elements of navigation safety and communications.
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