A UN Agency, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is set to adopt a new set of rules and regulations starting in 2016 for vessels taking the Northwest Passage (above Canada) or the Polar Sea Route (above Russia).
There were 30 transits of Canada’s Northwest Passage in 2012 and 22 in 2013 – two-thirds or more of these by foreign vessels. While it’s not experiencing the same rush of traffic as Russia’s Northern Sea Route, the Northwest Passage is seeing significantly increased traffic from 30 years ago. The most significant trip in 2013 was that of the Danish-owned Nordic Orion became the first commercial bulk carrier to sail the Northwest Passage, with a load of coal from Vancouver to Finland.
As the Globe and Mail notes “Canada lacks sufficient ships and resources to keep a close watch on shipping everywhere in its huge Arctic archipelago, and so any measures to require foreign vessels to abide by stiffer rules could reduce the chances of environmental disasters in the North.”
The key features of the new code would include vessel requirements, safety rules, anti-fowling provisions and escort requirements. It sets out 7 classes of ships that could operate in polar waters:
PC1 -Year -round operation in all ice-coveredwaters
PC2 -Year-round operation in moderate multi-year ice conditions
PC3 -Year-round operation in second-year ice which may include multi-year ice inclusions
PC4 -Year-round operation in thick first-year ice which may include old ice inclusions
PC5 -Year-round operation in medium first-year ice which may include old ice inclusions
PC6 -Summer/autumn operation in medium first-year ice which may include old ice inclusions
PC7 -Summer/autumn operation in thin first-year ice which may include old ice inclusions
A polar shipping code makes a lot of sense for the international community. Polar nations do not want a tragedy like a sinking or major pollution incident. The timing is prescient as traffic is growing. In North America both Canada and the US lack serious icebreaker capability, possessing only a few thirty year+ old vessels each.