The final draft was drawn up on 24th January by the IMO to be presented later this year.
Increased shipping activity poses significant new threats to the polar environment and wildlife through oil spills, black carbon deposition, sewage discharges and the introduction of invasive species, environmental lobbyists warned.
The IMO has reached preliminary agreement on rules for the vessels, which will increasingly include oil tankers, as well as other ship types, who could be operated by crew not accustomed to such harsh conditions.
Blinded by the prospect of ‘ice-free’ operations enabled by the sea ice melt, the IMO makes the fateful assumption that these ships can safely operate without special hull protection, or restrictions such as reduced speed, they said.
The Polar Code’s environmental chapter also lacks ambition. Residual heavy fuel oil would have a catastrophic environmental impact if spilled and is already banned in Antarctic waters, but the IMO dismissed the issue outright for the Arctic. Black carbon emissions – widely recognised as the second most important agent of climate change after CO2 – ballast water and oil spills have also not been addressed, claim the environmentalists.
Bill Hemmings of the European Federation for Transport and Environment, speaking on behalf of the environmental organisations, said: “A Polar Code which fails to address the major environmental dangers of increased shipping opens the door to potentially catastrophic consequences should a disaster happen. Environmental protection has essentially been put on the back-burner through the active lobbying of the shipping and cruise industry which consistently dismisses ecological concerns.”
“This is a disgraceful illustration of big business working behind closed doors to advance its own corporate interests before those of mankind and the unique polar environment. When the next big incident happens in polar waters the public will know where responsibility lies,” he concluded.