October 2015

IMO Adopts Polar Code For Arctic Ocean

By Mirjana Kuzmanovski
Staff Writer

Ground has been broken on the International Code of Safety for Ships Operating in Polar Waters, also known as the Polar Code. After meeting in London in May 2015, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), an agency under the United Nations that regulates ships, adopted several guidelines in the Polar Code that aim to reduce the amount of pollution emitted into the environment.

Now, ships entering Arctic waters will be examined to see if they pass these guidelines before receiving the green light to travel through the Arctic Ocean.

The strict environmental guidelines in the Polar Code ban the discharge of oil, oily waters, harmful chemicals, and food waste. Any food waste must be 20 kilometers away from land or ice.

Although such strict guidelines will be put into effect, the fuel oil used for these ships poses major environmental problems. Pacific Environment spokesman Kevin Harun told CBC News that the fuel oil is “thick, vicious, dirty and persistent, doesn’t evaporate and would be a real disaster if there was a spill.”

University of British Columbia professor Michael Byers noted the same guidelines are already enforced in Antarctic waters, adding, “There was real hope the IMO would extend that ban.” He also noted that this oil produces black carbon, one of the leading causes of climate change.

While Harun and Byers believe the Polar Code is a great initiative to curb the escalation of climate change, the guidelines are not strong enough. Enforcement of the guidelines will be the responsibility of nations within their territorial waters. Elsewhere, enforcement is uncertain.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) expressed support for the ratification of the Polar Code, considering the high sensitivity of ice-water ecosystems and the need for caution with maritime travel. Yet the ICS continues to highlight the need for a regulatory framework to ensure the guidelines of the Polar Code are met.

The Polar Code is set to take effect on January 1, 2017.

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