Back in November 2014, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), adopted the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code), and related amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) to make it mandatory, marking a major milestone in the Organization’s work to protect ships and people aboard them, both seafarers and passengers, in the harsh environment of the waters surrounding the two poles.
What are the Changes?
The Polar Code provides goals and functional requirements in relation to vessel design, construction, equipment, operations ,crew training and search and rescue protocols. The changes are expected to be ratified by the full IMO this year and come into force in 2017.
The increase in melting sea ice and pressure to cut voyage costs makes the Arctic commercially enticing to shipping companies who want to avoid the voyage from China to Europe via the Suez Canal. Tourism, fishing and fossil fuel operations are also now looking toward one of the world’s most fragile and remote environments.
With the expected boom in Arctic shipping in mind, the Polar Code looks to provide essential guidelines for the safe transit in these waters. While the rules are a good start, it appears there is much more to be done.
There are very few ways to manage Arctic shipping with the obvious large obstacle being the lack of communication infrastructure along these waters.
Satellite AIS offers authorities a necessary lifeline to begin to understand the traffic and types of vessels that are transiting the icy passages. Other communication systems like Inmarsat have no coverage in the Arctic and although Iridium does, its deployment across the shipping world is limited.
For more information on the role Satellite AIS can play in helping to track vessels in the Arctic, download our Arctic use case.
The IMO has asked the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and The International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) to develop a new communications method to support e-Navigation. The current plans do include a need for a VHF satellite downlink capability. This coupled with planned e-Nav services, like route planning, are needed to truly improve the safety of ships and their passengers transiting through the Arctic.
* Author Peggy Browning is now serving as IALA Chair for the Telecommunications e-Nav Working Group