POLAR CODE— Ships traveling through polar regions now must comply with the International Maritime Organization's Polar Code.

Rules for Arctic waters to affect Nome port region

The Polar Code, as it is known in marine circles, upgrades mandatory and voluntary rules for large commercial vessels and passenger ships navigating Arctic and Antarctic waters. The new rules came into effect on New Year’s Day.

The rules will help protect the world class Bering Sea fishery. The International Maritime Organization designed the Polar Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters to increase marine safety, safeguard the environment and northern peoples. Regulations are specific concerning discharge of waste oil, food, sewage, garbage and toxic fluids. Canada and Russia have long had such a set of rules. New routes, tourism and commerce is pushing the United States to beef up regulations for the marine waters and fragile ecosystem upon which indigenous residents depend.

The Code covers needs generated by opportunities within the harsh environment exposed by melting ice responding to climate change: search and rescue, heavy fuel oil use, vessel emissions, new sea routes, and toxic discharges.

The International Maritime Organization will continue implementing the mandate by continuing to develop rules to mitigate risks in polar navigation.

Such rules have been underway since 1993, but have progressed through the urging of the Arctic Council and its guidance through the 2009 Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment.
Other countries among the eight touching the Arctic Circle are implementing similar measures.
The Code affects waters and operations in the Bering Sea north of 60° north. The Polar Code applies amendments to existing regulations to set standards for mariner training, construction requirements for shipbuilding to achieve heightened safety and environmental sensitivity.
At the other pole, the Code addresses waters off Antarctica south of 60° south latitude. Ships operating in polar waters north or south will have to have a Polar Ship Certificate issued by the country under whose flag it sails as well as have aboard a Polar Operational Manual.  Certification standards for certification of ship’s officers and crews will be in force by January next year.

“All eight Arctic nations share the challenge and responsibility of showing strong leadership in Polar Code’s implementation and enforcement,” said Dr. Lawson Bingham, of UAF International Research Center. Bingham has worked on the Polar Code since 1993. “IMO’s Polar Code will long be remembered in Alaska and throughout the circumpolar world as a seminal achievement that advanced protection of the Arctic peoples and marine environment while creating a uniform, nondiscriminatory set of rules and regulations, essentially leveling the playing field for future Arctic marine operators.”

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