20, Mar, 2012

Background on the Polar Code and Protection of the Ross Sea

Category: News

Polar Code


ASOC and its member groups have been actively engaged in the deliberations by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to develop a mandatory, legally binding Polar Code for shipping in polar regions.

ASOC strongly supports negotiation of the Polar Code as quickly as possible, and urges that the Code should apply to all vessels operating in polar waters and not just those considered to be “SOLAS vessels”. It has been agreed by IMO negotiators that extending appropriate elements of the Code to fishing vessels will be considered in phase 2 of work, but given the recent serious accidents in the Southern Ocean, ASOC urges governments to include fishing vessels in the Polar Code from its inception, and to take steps for the Torremolinos Protocol 19938 addressing fishing vessel safety to be brought into force and enhanced to provide appropriate rules for vessels fishing in polar waters. Attached as Appendix 1 is a list of ASOC’s recommendations to governments regarding the Polar Code.


Ross Sea – The Ross Sea is one of the most pristine marine ecosystems remaining on the planet. There is currently a process underway in CCAMLR to designate marine protected areas in the Ross Sea to help protect this unique place. ASOC has been campaigning for the Ross Sea slope and shelf to be fully protected as a no-take marine reserve with a phase-out of present fishing activity in the region.

ASOC and its partners are calling on CCAMLR Members to designate the Ross Sea as a no-take Marine Reserve by the end of 2012, which will ensure that this unique area receives sufficient protection as well as helping meet the Convention on Biodiversity’s9 target date for creating networks of marine protected areas around the globe. Attached as Appendix 2 is ASOC’s paper presented to CCAMLR in October 2011 outlining the rationale for the Ross Sea Marine Reserve.


Appendix 1


Recommendations for a mandatory Polar Code


Application of Polar Code

§ The Polar Code should apply to all vessels operating in waters south of the Antarctic Convergence, including fishing vessels.

§ The Polar Code should include provisions for non-SOLAS vessels including fishing vessels, icebreakers and large yachts.

§ The Polar Code should require that existing vessels, where practicable, apply all provisions and in particular where vessels are being converted for polar service

§ The Polar Code should provide clear and unambiguous requirements on the appropriate ice class of vessels required for operations in polar waters (related to anticipated ice conditions), including a minimum of Polar Class 7 or equivalent for all new vessels.


Safety provisions

§ The Polar Code should require the highest possible safety standards for all vessels, including intact and damaged stability standards.

§ The Polar Code should address the threat posed by icing of vessels structure and of equipment by imposing appropriate ice-strengthening rules.

§ The Polar Code should require appropriate life-saving equipment and operations for all vessels.

§ The Polar Code should require high standards of training for ice-navigators, officers and crew.


Search & rescue

§ The Polar Code should address the need for enhanced and coordinated search and rescue response in remote Polar Regions and take into account already formulated relevant agreements such as the Arctic Council’s SAR instrument.

§ The Polar Code should address the currently inadequate mapping of hydrographic conditions in polar waters.


Environmental response

§ The Code should address options for environmental emergency response in remote Polar Regions.

§ The Polar Code should require that the shipboard oil pollution emergency plan contains tailored provisions for operations in remote and sensitive polar environments.


Enforcement and compliance

§ The Polar Code should require inspections and controls over vessels operating in polar waters in order to ensure strict compliance with the provisions of the Code.

§ The Code should require regular vessel reporting to the relevant regional maritime rescue coordination centres while operating in polar waters.

§ The Polar Code should recognize the value of regional vessel traffic monitoring and information systems to support environmental protection and safety compliance.


Environmental Protection

§ The Polar Code should comprehensively address all forms of potential impact from vessels operating in polar waters and ensure that the highest possible environmental standards are applied.

§ Where appropriate the Polar Code should refer to “oil and other harmful substances” and include a definition of harmful substances drawn from the definition in the MARPOL Convention.

§ The Polar Code should provide environmental protection in polar waters beyond that afforded by the MARPOL Convention and other instruments such as the Ballast Water Management Convention and the Anti-fouling Systems Convention.

§ The Polar Code should recognize the value of accident mitigation measures such as traffic routeing and separation schemes, areas to be avoided, speed restrictions, and mandatory ship location reporting.

§ The designation of Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs) should be considered along with associated protective measures tailored to each region that address accident mitigation and environmental protection from routine discharges.

§ The Polar Code should require that a vessel’s Operating Manual should include procedures tailored to polar waters that address routine vessel discharges.

§ The Polar Code should address the availability and use of waste reception facilities in connection with provisions protecting the polar environment from Annex I, II, IV and V wastes.

§ Heightened standards for a range of routine discharges including sewage, sewage sludge, grey water and food wastes should be included in the Polar Code, in combination with testing, monitoring, recordkeeping, reporting, and enforcement requirements.

§ The Polar Code should include a ban on incineration in especially vulnerable areas of the Southern Ocean, such as marine protected areas or other ecologically sensitive areas and within a specified distance, e.g. 12 nm, from the ice-face and / or land.

§ The Polar Code should include interim measures / guidance on reducing black carbon emissions from ships operating in polar regions with fifty percent reductions in black carbon emissions targeted immediately and seventy percent reductions sought in the medium term (i.e. 2018).

§ The Polar Code should include provisions which seek to reduce vessel disturbance to marine life through ship noise reduction measures, including ship quieting technology identified in the IMO noise reduction guidelines (under development), speed restrictions, routeing options and areas to be avoided (taking into account bathymetric features, endemic marine mammal underwater sound sensitivity and migratory corridors). Particular attention should be given to noise from icebreakers.


§ The Polar Code should require that the provisions of the Ballast Water Management Convention are applied for all vessels operating in polar waters. There should be additional restrictions on ballast discharges due to the great potential for major ecological impacts from species introduced via ballast water as ice cover recedes and the seawater warms in response to climatic change in polar regions. Moreover, the IMO Biofouling Guidelines should be followed by all vessels operating in polar waters.

§ The Polar Code should require that the provisions of the Anti-Fouling Systems Convention are applied to all vessels operating in polar waters. Furthermore, consideration should be given to the need for further restrictions on alternative anti-fouling systems, particularly those which release biocides (which are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic), due to the potential for major impacts on polar waters and non-biocidal anti-fouling systems should be used when practicable.

§ The Polar Code should include a provision on the use of advanced voyage planning to avoid interactions, especially collisions, with cetaceans and other marine mammals. Possible courses of action for vessel operators could include avoiding areas that pose a high risk of collision or operating through these areas at a reduced speed (e.g., 10 knots).

See http://www.imo.org/About/Conventions/ListOfConventions/Pages/The-Torremolinos-International-Convention-for-the-Safetyof-Fishing-Vessels.aspx for information on the Torremolinos Convention and Protocol and latest developments.