Focus on the Polar RegionWith the shipping sector looking to trade in ever more environmentally sensitive areas such as the Arctic, it is essential that regulatory bodies such as the InternationalMaritime Organisation (IMO) and the Arctic Council develop rigorous guidelines regarding the protection of the marine environment in the event of an accident.
The IMO’s Polar Code
At a meeting in March 2011 at the IMO’s headquarters in London, its Ship Design & Equipment Sub-committee learnt more about the concept of maritime passive safety.
The French delegation has called for ships circulating in the polar zones to be ‘provided with standardized equipment onboard to facilitate recovery of the oils or liquid pollutants contained in the tanks in order to prevent pollutant discharge from a ship damaged in an accident and facilitate recovery of the content of tanks following an accident’ and had invited MPSA President Gilles Longuève to outline how maritime passive safety equipment is able to take up the three challenges that ships have to face in the case of emergency:
- Prevent or stop pollutants from leaking within the ship and from the ship into the sea.
- Access the pollutants, which are often very difficult to reach, as they need to be removed in order to avoid spillage.
- Minimize response time in order to prevent escalation of the crisis and ultimately an environmental catastrophe.
The IMO Ship Design & Equipment Sub-committee has since commenced discussions regarding the development of legislation to cover shipping in the Polar region. In the process, experts are considering the potential solutions at their disposal to limit the impact from accidents on the Arctic sensitive habitats, including the following control means :
- Design ships for the ease of removal of pollutants from sunken ships
- Oil recovery systems to be carried aboard ships
- Leak preventers
- Standardization of fuel, water transfer couplings, booms to minimize spills from ship-to-ship transfers
- Oil spill contingency plan specific to the ship
- Preposition of equipment to respond to spills
A first draft of the Polar Code is in progress, which will be specified in the coming months.
What makes the polar regions special?
The risk of accident is high in Arctic & Antarctic due to aggregated factors, including:
- Long polar days and nights
- Insufficiently surveyed seas
- No/ reduced coordination of navigation
- Knowledge of local oceanographic conditions limited or incomplete (currents/tidal streams etc.)
- Localized extreme and rapidly variable weather conditions e.g. Katabatic winds - high speed winds falling from the polar plateau
- Instrumentation issues (e.g.instruments such as compass and gyro may not work as specified)
- Icing (e.g. of superstructure, hull valve, radar or other equipment) which might impair function
- Interruption of INMARSAT leading to possible communication disruptions, or slow download speeds
- Due to remoteness it is difficult to respond to assistance requirements including maintenance, accidents, incidents etc.
- Sea ice collision and glacial ice waves caused by calving (mini-tseunami)
- Newly navigable waters, reduced experience
- Equipment that fails on demand due to icing or cold
- Limited infrastructure, such as ports
- High wave heights are more frequent in some areas (Infinite fetch in the Antarctic)
- Extended area of restricted visibility (Arctic regions)
- High wind speeds are more frequent and sustained in some areas
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