Maritime body condemns Canada’s new Arctic shipping rules

Shipping industry council doesn’t like mandatory registration


Canwest News Service

The federal government’s tough new rules regulating Arctic shipping have drawn fire from the largest international association of maritime cargo carriers, which describes the mandatory registration system introduced by Canada on July 1 as “drastic” and a potential threat to the long-standing “right to innocent passage” on the world’s oceans.

BIMCO, the Denmark-based Baltic and International Maritime Council, includes firms accounting for 65 per cent of the world’s cargo.

The organization says Canada ignored its request earlier this year to have the proposed new Arctic regulatory regime vetted first by a committee of the International Maritime Organization, which oversees global shipping traffic.

“There will be compliance, and we are very much in favour of everybody contributing to a very safe environment in these Arctic waters,” said Michael Lund, BIMCO’s chief international affairs officery.

But he added that the new Canadian regime appears to conflict with some key principles that have guided international shipping in the past and that “we would have liked to see this go to the IMO” before Transport Canada implemented the new rules this month.

“Mandatory ship reporting systems represent an administrative burden to the ship’s crew that can have safety implications,” BIMCO argued in a submission on the new rules sent to Canadian officials in February.

Noting that an expansion of the geographical area covered by the new regulations “appears drastic,” BIMCO also raised concerns that the blocking of any vessel deemed to be violating the rules “could be seen as effectively interfering with the right to innocent passage for ships as ensured by UNCLOS,” the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Lloyd’s List, the main source for international shipping news, recently published articles airing BIMCO’s concerns and quoting Transport Canada’s response that “the waters in question are within the exclusive jurisdiction of Canada and there is no legal obligation to seek approval from the IMO.”

The bolstered ship-tracking regime — which replaces the much-criticized NORDREG voluntary registration system for vessels travelling through the Northwest Passage and other Canadian Arctic waters — was unveiled in February and announced again in June by Fisheries Minister Gail Shea at a news conference ahead of the July 1 implementation date.

“Our government and Prime Minister Harper have always asserted that a strong and sovereign Canada depended on a healthy, prosperous and secure North,” Shea said at the time.

“The world has their eyes set on the unprecedented economic growth opportunities, in particular in the mining, and oil and gas sectors,” she added. “We can all expect this to mean more shipping in the Arctic.”

Along with making registration with federal officials mandatory for any ship greater than 300 tonnes travelling through Canada’s Arctic waters, the new rules are part of a broader assertion of Canadian authority over northern shipping that has extended pollution-control limits and other laws to 200 nautical miles offshore from 100 nautical miles.

U.S. not keen on new rules

A senior Transport Canada official acknowledged at the time that the U.S. gave a lukewarm response to the new regime, raising concerns that the stricter regulations could unnecessarily impede ship movements.

“The U.S. has sort of a mixed view of it,” the official stated last month.

“They recognize for the purposes of pollution prevention and safety of navigation, that such measures are a good idea. On the other hand, they do like to maintain the freedom to navigate. They’re keen about that — they have a large navy.”

University of British Columbia professor Michael Byers, an expert in international law and Arctic geopolitics, said while the new mandatory ship-tracking system is highly laudable, he is concerned Canada may have provoked an unnecessary backlash by failing to prepare the global industry for the regulatory changes.

“In international law, it doesn’t matter what BIMCO thinks, since only nation states — acting collectively — can make or change the rules,” Byers said.

“But industry pressure can influence the positions taken by the major shipping states, including the U.S., Panama, Germany, South Korea, China and Japan.”

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