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  • The Future of the Polar Code and the environmental issues of the Arctic region will be in the hands of the new IMO Secretary-General - expert opinion
  • 2015 May 19 09:51

    The Future of the Polar Code and the environmental issues of the Arctic region will be in the hands of the new IMO Secretary-General - expert opinion

    According to the geological data, the largest oil and gas reserves are located in the North of Alaska as well as off shore in the Kara and the Barents Seas. Jamal Peninsula (Russia) even now produces one fifth of the natural gas world extraction. It seems that these two regions will be a starting point in the race for the exploration of the Arctic natural treasures. According to a captain who shared his opinion with IAA PortNews, this race will cause an increase in the transportation activity in the Northern region.

    Murmansk initiatives by M. S. Gorbachev were the first bricks in the foundation of the international shipping along the Russian Arctic coastal line and gave an opportunity to open the Northern Sea Route for the navigation of foreign ships with the support of the Soviet (at that time) nuclear ice-breakers.

    Ice melting opens polar areas which used to be difficult to access, for the industrial extraction of oil, gas and other mineral resources. London Insurance Company Lloyd published the forecast according to which up to 100 billion dollars will be invested to the Arctic in the nearest 10 years. At present the change of climatic conditions in the Arctic causes the intensive melting of ice and the extension of the navigation period accordingly. In other words, the accessibility of the northern coastal line of Russia as well as the northern seas is gradually increasing.

    The Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage along the coastal line of Canada and the USA, attract as a magnet also those countries that have neither direct access  to the Arctic Ocean nor to the Arctic region in general. Among them, there are Asian countries that acquired a rapid economic growth such as China, South Korea, Japan and India. It is also necessary to underline the interest of the merchant shipping of such countries as the USA, Denmark, Germany and European Union as a whole.

    These countries enjoy their right of transit passage which is stipulated in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and consider both the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage as a part of the international transportation system.

    The transport strategy of the Russian Federation for the period up to 2020 adopted in 2005 is aimed at the development and updating of all marine transport.

    As far as the Northern Sea Route is concerned, it, as a Eurasian transportation passage, will encourage the development of transportation services market.

    All the shipping in the Northern Sea Route along the Russian coast is governed by the Russian legislation taking into consideration the international Maritime Law standards.

    The intensive growth of shipping in the Arctic seas and on the North Sea Route, which consistently becomes one of the international transit passages, increases the anthropogenic tensions on the sensitive ecological system of the Arctic. This fact determines the necessity of the considerable higher requirements both to the vessels and marine plants, operating in this region.

    The Polar Code which is being worked out touches upon all the issues regarding  ships operating in the Arctic waters including designing, training, building, search and rescue operations and the environmental protection. The additional requirements to the ecological provisions which are already available in MARPOL Convention have been introduced.

    The Polar Code is intended to apply its provisions to the Arctic area, which is already considered as a special area under  MARPOL Annexes I and V..

    The Marine Environment Protection Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO)  has already approved of the parts of the Code which include the following topics:

    prevention of oil pollution, ban on any discharge of oil  mixtures from any ship including the requirements to the design specific features of ships;

    control of pollution by noxious liquid substances in bulk ;prevention of pollution  by sewage  from ships, prohibition of  sewage discharge excluding small particles as well as disinfected sewage waters  under the certain circumstances and at a certain distance from ice;

    prevention of garbage pollution from ships, with the existing restrictions on discharge.  The discharge of food waste on ice is unacceptable. The discharge of the ground food wastes is permitted  under certain circumstances only, namely, at a distance not less than 12 nautical miles from the nearest land, ice-shelf or fast ice.    The disposal of only certain cargo residues with no harm to the marine environment is acceptable.   

    The Committee has approved the draft amendments to the following MARPOL Annexes: I (prevention of pollution by oil), II (control of pollution by noxious liquid substances in bulk), IV (prevention of pollution by sewage, and V (prevention of pollution by garbage) in order to make the related chapters in part II – A  of Polar Code mandatory within the framework of these Annexes.

    In August 2013 by invitation of the Russian Federation the IMO Secretary-General  Koji Sekimizu made his five-day Arctic voyage onboard the nuclear ice-breaker  “50 Let Pobedy” in order to acquaint himself with the outstanding problems of the Polar region and assess new navigation possibilities due to the reduction of ice surface. The developed Polar Code is mandatory both under SOLAS and MARPOL..

    In general, the positively evaluated Polar Code is an important step towards the Arctic shipping development as well as to the safety providing. However, the document was a subject to criticism from the side of “greens” in many aspects, particularly, in the issues regarding ballast waters cleaning and the use of heavy fuel oil. The problem of soot discharge, which is considered to be the most harmful for the atmosphere, also attracted their attention.

    The ban on the use of the heavy fuel oil was not imposed in the Polar Code (as it was done in the Antarctic). This fuel causes the abnormally high discharge of harmful substances into the atmosphere and additional threat in case of oil spills.

    The noise created by ships, which disturbs the wild nature, is not taken into account in any projects, though from 2017, the requirement to plot the routes of the ships taking into account  the habitat of marine mammals will come into force.

    Bill Hemmings, representing the European Federation for Transport and Environment on behalf of the Federation and ecological organizations criticized abruptly the International Maritime Organization. The essence of this criticism is simple, namely, the Polar Code will turn the Arctic into a place for everybody to idle about because it allows the transit to nearly all vessels without taking into account their ice class, ice navigating experience and crew members skills. This fact can be considered as a direct and immediate threat to the Arctic.

    Just when the most stringent requirements have already been elaborated and are applied for Emission Control Areas (ECA) which today include the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, the coastal waters of the USA and Canada, the Mediterranean Sea, the coast  of Japan as well as other water areas, a large number of the most urgent ecological requirements remained negligible in the Polar Code.

    In spite of the fact that the voyage onboard the nuclear ice-breaker “ 50 Let Pobedy” became for Koji Sekimizu the continuation of his direct  participation in considering difficult issues connected with the intensification of marine activity in polar waters (in December 2012 he visited the Antarctic as a guest of theGovernment of Chile, and earlier he had made a voyage on the Finish ice-breaker in the Northern waters), many ecological issues in Polar Code have remained unsolved.

    The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is an international organization, and representatives of very many countries participate in its discussions.  Unfortunately, there often occurs a situation when a country which does not even border  the Arctic tries to impose some of their own limitations. The balance between ecology, safety, economic efficiency and technical realization of the project decisions providing the fulfillment of the new requirements should be found.

    IMO efficiency and effectiveness  in many aspects depends onthe key figure, Secretary-General. On December 31, 2015 the term of office of the incumbent IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu will expire.

    The programs presented by the candidates for the position of the Secretary- General-Andreas Nordseth (Denmark), Maximo Mejia (Philippines), Juvenal Shiundu (Kenya), Andreas Chrysostomou (Cyprus) do not consider the problems in addressing the Arctic.

    The candidate from the Russian Federation, Vitaly  Klyuev has extensive experience in developing mechanisms for implementing IMO decisions  at the Member States level. He is actively engaged in ensuring ecological and navigational safety in the Arctic, both at the national and international levels.

    There is a hope that the consensus regarding the Arctic issues will be achieved by Vitaly Klyuev in case he is elected to the post of IMO Secretary-General.

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