It is nearing the end of day two at IMO.   As is normal for this organization, sessions are usually marathon runs, as committees, sub-committees and working groups attempt to meet their various goals and remits. 

Regardless of some press that has come out in the last day or so, new “prescriptive marine regulations to cover the Arctic and Antarctic” are not about to be approved by IMO soon.  Yes, at the opening of Sub-committee on Ship Design and Construction (SDC) 1, Secretary General Koji Sekimizu indicated very clearly that IMO intends to have a mandatory Polar Code approved by the end of 2014, with projected implementation in 2016 or 2017.    However, given the last two days discussions at both SDC1 plenary and the Polar Code Working Group (PCWG), this mariner and delegate to IMO believes that may be optimistic. 

The Polar Code was intended to provide additional above other foundation codes such as MARPOL or SOLAS for vessels operating in the Polar Regions.  Given the work that has gone on over the last six or so years on this latest iteration of IMO attempting to put in place meaningful guidance for polar shipping, one would have thought the Secretary General’s goal would not be unachievable.  Indeed, substantial effort had been made by the intersessional work of the PCWG resulting in a draft Polar Code as presented at the beginning of the week in two parts.

  • Part I-A Safety Measures
    • 1.   General
    • 2.   Polar Waters Operation Manual
    • 3.   Structural Integrity
    • 4.   Stability
    • 5.   Watertight and Weathertight Integrity
    • 6.   Machinery
    • 7.   Operational Health and Safety
    • 8.   Fire Safety/Protection
    • 9.   Life-saving Appliances and Arrangements
    • 10. Safety of Navigation
    • 11. Communication
    • 12. Operational
    • 13. Crewing/Manning
    • 14. Emergency Control
  • Part I-B Additional Guidance (Recommendatory Measures)
  • Part II-A Pollution Prevention Measures
    • 1. Prevention of pollution
    • 2. Prevention of pollution from noxious liquids
    • 3. Pollution by harmful substances in packaged form
    • 4. Prevention of pollution by garbage
  • Part II-B Information and Additional Guidance

These have been full days, discussions running to 2230 Monday evening and midnight Tuesday and progress has been slow.  Even taking into consideration the many elements that have had to be deferred for clarification of other sub-committees such as Sub-committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR) and Sub-committee on Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping (HTW) thereby freeing valuable discussion time within the PCWG, some issues have been labouriously tossed back and forth.  PCWG is likely to have at least one more 16-hour day, and perhaps two.  

Of course, much of the time is taken in ensuring the wording is “just so” and meets the expectations of the very diverse working group membership yet still remain within the direction to be mandatory, as brief as possible and not in conflict with other IMO instruments.  Given the very broad spectrum (and sometimes competing interests) of interested parties it should not be surprising that some specific items have bogged down the WG more than others.  Discussing how to address the need to avoid sensitive cetacean populations in voyage planning occupied over three hours; just over four hours were taken in defining a minimum temperature at which certain “low temperature” provisions would kick in.

I remain confident that a mandatory Polar Code is indeed inevitable now.   IMO Secretary General Sekimizu has made it abundantly clear on many occasions and with his steadfast direction to the organization that it is a priority.  That is a good thing for marine industry, for mariners and for the delicate polar environments.  

Though some chapter titles are changing, the final form will be very close to that described above, but the detail within is far from complete. As day two of SDC 1 comes to a close, I am not so certain that a final draft will result from this week’s work.