Three years after Nunavut cruise ship mishap, new Polar Code still in the works

International Marine Organization slated hopes to create new, mandatory Polar Code by 2016


The cruise ship, the Clipper Adventurer, was stranded on Aug. 27, 2010 in the Coronation Gulf after it was grounded on the seabed. (FILE PHOTO)

The cruise ship, the Clipper Adventurer, was stranded on Aug. 27, 2010 in the Coronation Gulf after it was grounded on the seabed. (FILE PHOTO)

Three years after the cruise ship Clipper Adventurer hit a charted hazard near Kugluktuk and grounded Aug. 27, 2010 on that shoal, leading to an evacuation of the ship’s passengers and crew, the International Maritime Organization continues to work towards the adoption of a mandatory set of rules to be called the Polar Code, for vessels operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters.

This would come into effect in 2016 — four years after the original target delivery date — and replace voluntary regulations in place since 2002.

The mandatory code for ships operating in polar waters would cover design, construction, equipment, training, search and rescue, and environmental protection matters “relevant to ships operating in the inhospitable waters surrounding the two poles,” the IMO said.

The code, which would supplement existing mandatory regulations in place in the Arctic and Antarctic, would apply to a wide variety of ships, including sealift vessels and cruise ships.

“Cruise vessels present a challenge for Arctic shipping regulations. Specifically, larger cruise ships that are moved from the Caribbean, Europe or Mediterranean to operate in the Arctic represent a genuine challenge,” Lawson Brigham, who chaired the Arctic Council’s Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment, said in a 2011 interview with Det Norske Veritas, an independent foundation in Norway that’s focused on safeguarding life, property, and the environment.

Pointing to the Clipper Adventurer’s grounding, Brigham said the challenges of rescuing passengers and salvaging the cruise ship were apparent to all, even though this was not an ice-related incident.

The Transportation Safety Board’s investigation showed, among other things, that the Clipper Adventurer lacked essential equipment and that there were serious missteps made before and after the ship grounded on a charted shoal.

“The combination of the remoteness and harshness of the Arctic must be taken into account even though cruise ships may not be operating in ice-covered waters. The lack of marine infrastructure such as SAR [search and rescue], salvage and even adequate regional charts is the key factor, and these call for protocols and strategies within the cruise ship industry itself,” he said.

While the Polar Code will be a “significant step,” Brigham said, the code wouldn’t include other restrictions that the shipping industry, mainly based in Third World countries, has not favoured.

These include:

• regulations on black carbon – soot, produced in large amounts by the exhaust of container ships, cargo ships, bulk ships and passenger ships, has a large impact in the Arctic where studies have shown it absorbs warmth from the sun, which helps to melt snow and ice and warm the land or ocean; and,

• a ban on the use heavy fuel oil, as is the case for the Antarctic.

The Polar Code comes as maritime traffic in waters off Nunavut and elsewhere in the Arctic is expected to increase: research suggests that, by 2050, changing sea ice conditions will allow common open-water ships to cross the Arctic along the Northern Sea Route over the Russian Federation, new routes for moderately ice-strengthened ships over the North Pole, and new routes through the Northwest Passage for both vessel classes.

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