On 15 May, the environmental provisions of the Polar Code were adopted by the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO)...

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On 15 May, the environmental provisions of the Polar Code were adopted by the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The complete Polar Code, encompassing the safety-related and environment-related requirements, is expected to enter into force on 1 January 2017.

Arctic Council members have been actively engaged in the development of the Polar Code through their participation in the International Maritime Organization. The Council has also helped to promote safe and secure shipping through the Arctic region, including through the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (2009).

The Arctic Council spoke earlier with Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu of the IMO about how these provisions will help protect Arctic waters from pollution. Read his response below:

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“The Polar Code adds additional requirements to those already applicable to ships under relevant IMO treaties, in order to address the specific challenges ships face when trading in the harsh conditions of the two poles. This should help to prevent accidents, thereby minimizing any potential pollution damage.

“Also, specific environmental provisions address operational discharges, to supplement the requirements already contained in MARPOL*. As the Antarctic area is already established as a Special Area under MARPOL Annexes I and V, with stringent restrictions on discharges, the Polar Code aims to replicate many of those provisions in the Arctic area.

“Part II of the Polar Code, which has been approved by the MEPC for adoption in May this year**, includes mandatory provisions in chapters covering the following topics:

  • prevention of pollution by oil, including discharge restrictions prohibiting any discharge into the sea of oil or oily mixtures from any ship, as well as structural requirements including protective location of fuel-oil and cargo tanks;
  • control of pollution by noxious liquid substances in bulk, prohibiting any discharge into the sea of noxious liquid substances, or mixtures containing such substances;
  • prevention of pollution by sewage from ships, prohibiting the discharge of sewage except for comminuted and disinfected sewage under specific circumstances, including a specified distance from ice; and
  • prevention of pollution by garbage from ships, adding additional restrictions to the permitted discharges (under MARPOL Annex V, discharge of all garbage into the sea is prohibited, except as provided otherwise). Food wastes shall not be discharged onto the ice and discharge into the sea of comminuted and ground food wastes is only permitted under specific circumstances including at a not less than 12 nautical miles from the nearest land, ice-shelf or fast ice. Only certain cargo residues, classified as not harmful to the marine environment, can be discharged.”

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*Note: MARPOL is the abbreviation for the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, which entered into force on 2 October 1983.

**Note: These are the provisions formally adopted during the May 2015 meeting of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee.

Photo credit: Marie and Alistair Knock CC-BY-NC-SA