Polar Code - where are we now?

Apr 04 2013

Much has been written about the impending Polar Code, not least in Tanker Operator and the Ice Class Tanker Report, published last year.

Similar to many projects run by committees, the introduction of the Polar Code has slipped back to at least 2014, if not beyond.

It was originally due out last year having been approved as a new agenda for IMO’s MSC 86 meeting in May 2009, based on proposals put forward by Denmark, Norway and the US.

This article is based on a presentation given by the Norwegian Maritime Authority at the 13th meeting of the International Ice Charting Working Group held last year, which gives a succinct roundup of the position thus far..

In 2009, the Guidelines for ships operating in Polar Waters was adopted and was recommended for use from 1st January, 2011. By this time, it had been agreed that the IMO sub-committee on ship design and equipment (DE) would co-ordinate the work of putting together the Code.

Thus far, the Code’s draft contents include a preamble, general regulations (application, definitions, certification), Part A - mandatory requirements and Part B – additional guidance.

Part A will contain the main thrust of the Code with 15 chapters dedicated to:-

  • Chapter 1 - Polar water operational manual.
  • Chapter 2 - Structural integrity and deck machinery.
  • Chapter 3 - Stability and sub-division.
  • Chapter 4 - Watertight and weathertight integrity.
  • Chapter 5 – Machinery.
  • Chapter 6 - Accommodation and escape measures.
  • Chapter 7 - Fire safety/protection.
  • Chapter 8 - Life saving appliances and arrangements.
  • Chapter 9 – Navigation.
  • Chapter 10 – Communications.
  • Chapter 11 - Alternative design.
  • Chapter 12 - Operational requirements.
  • Chapter 13 - Manning, qualification and training.
  • Chapter 14 - Emergency control.
  • Chapter 15 - Environmental protection.

At the DE 56 meeting held between 30th January and 2nd February last year a work plan was developed. It was generally agreed on the contents goal and functional requirements of the various chapters.

Chapters that needed referral to other committees were identified and questions and guidance for those committees were formulated. A ‘work explanation’ was developed pertaining to the concept of the categories.

It was decided to defer the discussions regarding the environmental chapter (15) to DE 57, which was due to be held during the middle of March this year, after Tanker Operator had gone to press.

The work plan for the DE correspondence group to further develop in 2012-2013 included the introduction and Chapters 1, 2, 5, 6, 11, 12 and 14. Other committees became involved in Chapters 3 and 4 (SLF), 7 (FP), 9 (NAV), 10 (COMSAR), and 13 (STW).

At DE 57, the working group will further develop the Code incorporating the feedback from the other committees. This year and next, the DE correspondence group will finalise the Code’s content.

In 2014, at DE 58, the drafting group will finalise the Code’s text for referral to MSC and MEPC for their approval and subsequent adoption.


Three categories

As mentioned before, vessels operating in Polar Waters will be split into three categories.

Category A – A vessel with ice strengthening in accordance with the IACS Unified Requirements for Polar class vessels, or an acceptable alternative. The vessel will operate with due caution in severe ice conditions.

Category B – A vessel with the same level of ice strengthening as a Category A ship. It will operate with due caution in first year ice conditions and will avoid structurally dangerous types and concentrations of ice.

Category C – A vessel with no ice strengthening. It will operate with due caution in only very thin, or new, ice and will avoid structurally dangerous ice.

A standard SOLAS vessel may operate in Polar Waters that are ice free with no special measures taken, only subject to the vessel’s ability to check and confirm on a regular basis that no ice is present along its intended route and that it is not subjected to extreme environmental conditions that will compromise the functionality of its safety equipment.

There were three options open to the IMO’s legal division on how to make the Code mandatory- through SOLAS, MARPOL and SOLAS and via a new convention.

In February 2012, MEPC 62 decided to use the MARPOl and SOLAS option.

In the Code’s development, there were a few challenges thrown up.

These included geographical limitations, opinions on additional risks possibly leading to additional requirements, the mitigation of these risks (including the level of details), the need for additional environmental protection measures and how to implement them, which requirements shall apply to existing vessels, ice strengthening requirements/thresholds, a sailing permit system in addition to certification and opinions on time and progress to expedite the Code in a thorough manner.


Gilles Longueve and Mike Lacey seen at the IMO (see page 32).


The IMO’s NAV sub-committee was asked to look at Chapter 9 of the draft proposal to identify certain risks and also to introduce any other risk that had been omitted. This was primarily in the scope of: -

1) A higher probability of occurrence of hull damage due to floating ice in ice-infested waters;

2) A higher probability of occurrence of grounding in coastal waters, due to limited hydrography, lack of navigation aids and other navigational issues;

3) A higher probability of occurrence topside icing, due to low temperatures and strong winds; and

4) Unique hazards associated with potential lack of functionality of certain equipment in high latitudes.

These were coupled with potentially more severe consequences, due to remoteness and the associated problems of emergency response and search and rescue operations.

NAV was further requested to comment on the additional consequences of adopting the measures that could adversely affect their cost/benefit.

In Chapter 9.2, the functional requirements were laid down.

1) Systems for providing reference headings and position fixing shall be suitable for the intended areas.

2) The navigational equipment and systems shall be designed, constructed, and installed to remain operational considering the operational limitations of the ship.

3) Appropriate level of redundancy shall be provided for the navigation equipment and systems.

Exerts from Chapter 9.3 were given as an example for navigation purposes in ice –

Chapter 9.3.1 it was stated that all ships shall be fitted with Class A automatic identification system (AIS).

Chapter 9.3.2 – All ships shall have access to ice information.

Chapter 9.3.3 - Ships, as appropriate, shall be equipped with means for ice detection.

Chapter 9.3.4 says that the following equipment shall [as a minimum] be installed on board, as follows:

A) Equipment capable of receiving and displaying ice imagery; (Note: SOLAS chapter IV requires reception of weather information, including ice warnings, but this information is only available as text and is not displayed as charted information).

B) At least one radar should be fitted on board with an enhanced ice detection capability.


Salvage friendly

ISU salvage expert Mike Lacey and Maritime Passive Safety Association President Gilles Longuève unveiled a ‘salvage-friendly’ ship to the IMO in March.

The session took place during IMO’s 57th Design & Equipment sub-committee meeting, which was discussing the Polar Code, among other issues.

‘Salvage-friendly’ is a phrase describing a vessel, which with permanently installed on board solutions to help stop leakages from tanks, keeping the pollutants inside the ship and facilitating the recovery and evacuation of these pollutants by salvors.

Inclusion of ‘salvage-friendly’ measures is proposed in the latest round of talks regarding the Polar Code, which is due to be finalised by next year to help ensure safety of shipping in the Arctic and Antarctic areas.

Lacey, the former ISU general secretary and senior salvage advisor, pointed out the issues faced by the salvors when dealing with postaccident situations. He emphasised the growing need for ships to be prepared for salvage operations, especially in the most remote Polar Regions where salvage capabilities are virtually non-existent and the time ultimately needed to mobilise appropriate resources.

He said: “Ships have become more complex in terms of their design and layout. What is needed are systems that will come into play when there is a casualty to minimise the risk of an escape of pollutants. Systems, which will simplify access to bunker, or cargo tanks and will enable the rapid transfer of bunkers and/or oil cargoes and systems, which will reduce the inherent risks associated with any transfer of pollutants in a casualty situation.

“Vessels trading to the Polar Regions should therefore be fitted with equipment that will provide an element of ‘self-help’ and will go towards making such ships ‘salvage-friendly’. The passive safety systems will undoubtedly assist salvors in minimising the consequences of the casualty,” he said.

Gilles Longuève, president of the Maritime Passive Safety Association provided further details on the existing solutions, permanently installed on board ships, which eventually respond to the needs of the salvors.

“Certified solutions exist,” he explained; “They include leak preventers, DO venting valves, magnetic patches and fast oil recovery systems. They all have the same purpose: if we manage to extend the time period before oil gets in the waters and enable a smoother and faster salvage operation, then half the battle is won. These solutions have been developed with the salvors. While they can’t eradicate all oil spills, they ensure they are not a fatality anymore.”

Incorporating a cluster of suppliers, the Maritime Passive Safety Association does not advocates for a specific technology but rather provides information about the existing solutions, which respond to the challenges expressed by the salvors. Its mission is to make sure ships are prepared for salvage operations in case an incident, or an accident occurs.

The concept of ‘salvage-friendly’ was discussed by the Polar Code Correspondence Group members, as it is included in the Chapter 14 draft on ‘Emergency control’.

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