On 15 May, 2015 the IMO adopted the environmental provisions of the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (the “Polar Code”), which will now require vessels in polar waters to comply with various safety and environmental requirements imposed by the Code.  The Polar Code, which is expected to take effect on 1 January 2017, contains detailed requirements relating to safety, design and construction, operations, training, and the prevention of environmental pollution.  Additionally, the Polar Code includes recommendations and guidelines relating to the mandatory portions of the Code.  Major highlights from the Polar Code are summarized below.

Mandatory Safety Measures

Certificate and Survey

Under the Polar Code, vessels fall within one of three categories: Category A ships are vessels designed for operation in polar waters in at least medium first-year ice (70 cm to 120 cm thickness); Category B ships are non-Category A vessels designed for operation in polar waters in at least thin first-year ice (30 cm to 70 cm thickness); Category C ships are vessels designed for operation in open water or in ice conditions less severe than those described in Categories A and B.  Many provisions of the Polar Code are detailed according to the category of the vessel.

All vessels to which the Polar Code applies must have a valid Polar Ship Certificate on board.  The Certificate will be issued after an initial or renewal survey that will classify the vessel as either a Category, A, B, or C ship.  The Certificate requires an assessment to establish procedures or operational limitations, which would take into account the anticipated range of operating and environmental conditions and hazards the vessel may face in polar waters.  Such conditions and hazards may include operation in low ambient air temperature, ice, and high latitude, the possibility of abandoning ship onto ice or land, remoteness, and the effect of polar conditions on human performance.  For vessels operating in low ambient air temperature, systems and equipment required by the Code must function at the polar service temperature (“PST”), which is a temperature specified for a vessel that must be set at least 10°C below the lowest mean daily low temperature for the intended area and season of operation in polar waters.  Survival systems and equipment must be fully operational at the PST for the maximum expected rescue time.

Vessels must carry a “Polar Water Operational Manual,” which must include information on the vessel’s specific capabilities and limitations, procedures to be followed in normal operations in order to avoid exceeding the vessel’s capabilities, and procedures to be followed in the event of an incident in polar waters or when conditions exceed the vessel’s capabilities.

Ship Structure and Machinery Installations

For vessels intended to operate in low air temperature, materials used must be suitable for operation at the vessel’s PST.  The Code provides additional requirements depending on whether the vessel is classified as a Category A, B, or C ship.  The Code also includes provisions to ensure sufficient subdivision and stability when the vessel is either intact or damaged.  The Code imposes requirements relating to stability, vessel design, and ice removal equipment.  Additionally, the Code includes requirements to ensure that the vessel maintains weathertight and watertight integrity, and to ensure that machinery will function in polar conditions, taking into account factors such as ice accretion and snow accumulation.

Fire/Safety Protection and Life-Saving Appliances and Arrangements

Fire safety systems and appliances must be protected from ice and snow and must account for the need for persons to wear bulky and cumbersome cold weather gear.  If the vessel will operate in low ambient air temperature, fire safety systems and appliances must be effective under the PST.  The Code also includes requirements to facilitate safe escape, evacuation, and survival in polar conditions.  Among these are requirements that adequate thermal protection be available for each person aboard, and that all lifeboats be partially or totally enclosed.

Safety of Navigation, Communication, and Voyage Planning

Vessels must have means of receiving and displaying current information on ice conditions in the area of operation, have the ability to visually detect ice while operating in darkness, and must have two non-magnetic means to determine and display the vessel’s heading.  If ice accretion is likely, there must be a way to prevent the accumulation of ice on antennas required for navigation and communication.  The Code also contains requirements to ensure effective communication for ships and survival craft in both normal operations and emergency situations.

When planning a voyage through polar waters, the master must  take into consideration the Polar Water Operation Manual, current information on ice and icebergs in the vicinity of the intended route, statistical information on ice and temperatures from previous years, and information and measures to be taken when marine mammals are encountered relating to known areas with densities of marine mammals, including seasonal migration areas.

Manning and Training

The Code requires companies to ensure that masters, chief mates and officers in charge of a navigational watch on board ships operating in polar waters have completed appropriate training.  The extent of training depends on the ice conditions and the whether the vessel is a tanker, passenger ship, or other type of vessel.  Every crew member must be familiar with the provisions in the Polar Water Operation Manual relevant to their assigned duties.

Mandatory Pollution Prevention Measures

The discharge of oil or oily mixtures from any ship into Arctic waters is prohibited by the Code.  This prohibition does not apply to clean or segregated ballast.  The Code also requires that oil fuel tanks of Category A and B vessels be separated from the outer hull.  Discharge into Arctic waters of noxious liquid substances or any mixture containing such substances is also prohibited.  The discharge of sewage and garbage within polar waters is prohibited unless performed in accordance with MARPOL Annex IV and V, respectively, and with additional requirements specified in the Code.

This Maritime Update was prepared by Courtney L. Collins, an associate in KYL’s Anchorage, Alaska office.  Ms. Collins specializes in maritime law.  You may address questions regarding the Polar Code to Ms. Collins at courtney.collins@kyl.com.

Keesal, Young & Logan Maritime Law Group

This information has been prepared by Keesal, Young & Logan for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between you and Keesal, Young & Logan. You should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.