Editor’s Note: Mr. Jeffrey Lantz, Director of Commercial Regulations and Standards, spoke Feb. 22, 2018 at the International Conference on Polar Code Harmonization, in Helsinki, Finland. This post offers a condensed version of Lantz’s remarks, which focus on the U.S. Coast Guard’s view on harmonization, implementation, continued development and lessons learned.
“Good morning. I’d like to briefly discuss the U.S. role as a Nation with operations in both Poles, how the U.S. is implementing the Polar Code, where we see implementation and development heading, and some key lessons we can learn from the Polar Code.
A Polar Nation
The United States has significant interest in both the Arctic and Antarctic. As one of the eight Arctic nations, our interest in the safety and environmental protection of our own Arctic waters and coast is quite clear. From 2013 to 2017, we averaged 100 foreign vessel arrivals in U.S. Arctic ports, in addition to our fleet of over 350 domestic vessels operating in the region. We also have a very strong interest in the safe management of the Bering Strait, a highly trafficked region critical to the northeast and northwest passages.
The U.S. is also a leader in Antarctic research and exploration. A significant fleet of U.S. flagged vessels and aircraft support the U.S. Antarctic Research Center at McMurdo Station. Our presence in that remote part of the world has led to U.S. assets supporting roughly 20 percent of Antarctic search and rescue cases.
The Polar Code is a critical step in the protection of life and the environment in the Polar Regions as interest in transits, oil exploration, and tourism continue to grow. We must recognize, however, that the Polar Code is still a very new standard; full implementation will not occur until 2021. This means the majority of the Polar fleet is still not subject to the Code’s safety provisions. With that said, foreign vessels certificated to the Polar Code have entered U.S. ports and U.S. flagged vessels are beginning to pursue certification.
The U.S. has implemented the Polar Code through the existing frameworks established by SOLAS and MARPOL, by incorporating the new provisions of the Code into our port state control and domestic inspection regimes. This includes incorporated provisions of the Polar Code into our field inspection guides, training programs, and records systems. We have also begun reviewing class rules with the intent of delegating certificate-issuing authorities for the U.S flag.
To establish our expectations and interpretations related to the Polar Code, the U.S. Coast Guard issued two policy letters:
• CVC Policy Letter 16-06. Outlines U.S. Coast Guard interpretations of the Code and how we will verify compliance aboard both U.S. flagged and foreign-flagged vessels.
• OES Policy Letter 01-16. Discusses U.S. mariner training standards and expectations for associated training courses.
In addition to these policy letters, the U.S. Coast Guard is formalizing permanent changes to U.S. federal regulations addressing new requirements of the Polar Code. This includes efforts aimed at bringing the approaching STCW amendments into the U.S. mariner licensing and training program.
The U.S. recognizes there is interest in developing harmonized methods of implementation and enforcement for the Polar Code. The U.S. is not party to any of the Port State Control MOUs. In general, we do not align our port state control practices with other Nations. Although we recognize that harmonizing implementation early on may be beneficial, a robust uniform approach for enforcement may unintentionally restrict vessel operators or encourage the use of “off the shelf” operation manuals. This would contrast the intent of the goal-based Polar Code, which intended a certain level of flexibility to ensure holistic improvements to safety.
However, we do believe that “harmonization” of the Polar Code will occur naturally with time. As IACS determinations and unified interpretations are established, they will inform flag states and operators how to develop risk assessments and Polar water operational manuals. There are also equipment standards in development that will make it easier for operators and flag states to determine what equipment is acceptable for use in low temperature and high latitude applications.
Another aspect of harmonization that is rapidly improving is the availability of information and maritime domain awareness. The availability, reliability, and trustworthiness of hydrographic and meteorological data plays a critical role in the ability of operators to conduct sound risk assessments and thus develop strong Polar Water Operations Manuals. As this data becomes more available and accurate, risk assessments will more adequately capture the hazards vessels face.
In addition, the availability and coordination of search and rescue, environmental response and other resources also enhance regional stability. This will provide operators a clearer understanding of the infrastructure in place and risks posed by their operations. The U.S. is a strong supporter of the Arctic Council’s efforts to establish a Best Practices Forum. Aligning and promulgating information on available resources and hazards is a key step in the implementation of the Polar Code.
The last element that will lead to harmonization of the Polar Code is experience. With time, operators and Nations will learn valuable lessons about Polar operations and Polar Code compliance. It is important that we facilitate shared knowledge and lessons learned so that best practices can inform how to operate safely, responsibly, and economically in Polar Waters.
Although the Polar Code has entered into force, there is still significant continued development. The IMO has on its biennial agenda a work output entitled: “Consequential Work Related to the Polar Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters.” Included within this work output are efforts to better define standards for lifeboat habitability, communications, firefighting equipment, and the review of existing guidance for assessing operational capabilities in ice.
In addition to these efforts, several other initiatives also aim to enhance Arctic operational safety and stewardship at the IMO. The U.S. recently co-sponsored two papers to MEPC 72.
• MEPC 72/16 – Regional Reception Facilities Plan in the Arctic. This paper was developed through the Arctic Council and aims to ensure that adequate infrastructure is in place to support the enhanced discharge requirements proscribed by the Polar Code while minimizing the risks associated with waste disposal facilities in remote regions.
• MEPC 72/11/1 – Heavy Fuel Oil use in the Arctic. Given current projections for the increased levels of traffic in the Arctic, the limited response capabilities, and the sensitivity of the pristine Arctic environment, this paper proposes a ban on the carriage of heavy fuel oil as fuel to mitigate the risk of a spill. The paper includes proposals for a phased implementation, taking into consideration vessels constructed with the fuel tank protections required by the Polar Code for class A and B vessels.
There are also numerous efforts outside the IMO that aim to develop the Polar Code and advance implementation. The ISO, for example, is developing standards for deck heating systems and is considering additional specifications for life-saving appliances and fire safety systems aboard vessels subject to the Polar Code.
As a final thought, I’d like to highlight areas that made the development and implementation of the Polar Code a success.
Partnerships – In addition to the international alignment developed at the IMO itself, the Arctic Council and the Antarctic Treaty fostered broad support for the Polar Code and aided in its development through studies and research that directly contributed to the IMO’s efforts. This international coordination continues to provide a tremendous resource for the ongoing development of standards beyond the Polar Code. Also key throughout the development of the Polar Code was the partnership with indigenous peoples. These relationships allowed us to leverage local knowledge and gain a better understanding of the unique hazards of the region. They also clarified the potential impacts of developing standards.
Goal Based Framework – The Polar Code represents one of the first codes written in the GBS framework. The dynamic nature of the Polar environment, and of vessel operations in the region, made the GBS standards a natural fit. The holistic approach allows the Code the flexibility to adapt to the large variety of vessels and operational models. In this way, the code addresses the hazards posed by different levels of risk without creating undue burdens that would be detrimental to the remote communities of the Arctic. This is critical as these small communities rely heavily on marine transportation for food, fuel and supplies, which makes them highly susceptible to the economic impacts associated with new shipping standards.
Continued Learning – Polar standards have been in discussion at the IMO for more than a decade. The Code was built upon a series of guidelines that continued to leverage the knowledge gained from previous versions. This continued improvement of safety and stewardship through the lessons we have learned provided a tremendous resource in the constructing of the Polar Code. We should closely examine the lessons we learn now from the current Polar Code to inform how best we can advance the commercial value of the region without compromising safety or the environment.
In conclusion, the U.S. is heavily invested in both Arctic and Antarctic regions and we believe the Goal Based Standards of the Polar Code represent an excellent enhancement of safety and environmental protection. We recognize the Code is very new and that we are still developing peripheral standards and information to bolster its effectiveness. It is important that we continue to leverage the experiences gained through implementation and development to inform subsequent international agreements both in Polar Regions and globally.”
This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.