The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) met for its 68th session, from 11 to 15 May, 2015, at the IMO's London headquarters. The meeting saw the agreement of the adoption of the environmental provisions of the International Code for ships operating in polar waters, otherwise known as the Polar Code.

The newly-adopted provisions focus on the environmental aspects of the Code, which include the prevention of pollution by oil, noxious liquid substances, sewage and garbage.

The provisions outline that discharge into the sea of oil or oily mixtures from any ship is prohibited and oil fuel tanks must be separated from the outer shell. Similarly, the discharge into the sea of noxious liquid substances or mixtures containing such substances is prohibited.

They also declare the discharge of sewage is prohibited unless performed in line with MARPOL Annex IV and requirements outline in the Polar Code, and that discharge of garbage is restricted and only permitted in accordance with MARPOL Annex V and requirements in the Polar Code.

In December 2014 the safety-related requirements of the Polar Code were adopted by the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) and made mandatory under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). The adoption of the environmental-related requirements come some five months hence, with the Polar Code expected to enter into force on 1 January, 2017.

Big Fish navigating the polar regions

While the Polar Code’s primary focus is environmental protection, James Roy, yacht design director at BMT Nigel Gee, told there is another facet of protection to consider when looking at the code.

“The Polar Code is intended to be a holistic code covering equipment, design, construction, operation and manning. To date, many yachts may have achieved ‘Ice Class’ by strengthening of hulls and stern gear to class requirements, but this does not necessarily mean they are permitted to enter polar regions. The code should set a common standard that covers not only construction but also equipment, operation and manning, including crew training. To that extent, the code is not just there to protect the environment but also the yacht and her crew,” he explained.

But what impact will the Code have on design? “With regard to construction, we do not, at this early stage, foresee anything that is going to pose a significant challenge,” revealed Roy. He did note, however, that “aspects such as stability must account for ice accretion and hull and stern gear must be strengthened to an extent, depending on the level of ice in which the vessel will operate.”
The Polar Code has not been welcomed by everyone in the industry, however. Nautilus International has voiced discontent with the Code in the past, and having attended this 68th MEPC meeting as part of the International Federation of Shipmasters’ Associations, Allan Graveson, Nautilus Senior National Secretarty, told “The Polar Code was a ‘paper exercise’ that satisfied the need to be seen to be doing something, but changed little.”

For Roy, however, the Code is a welcome addition to the industry’s regulatory framework. “We welcome the adoption of this code,” said Roy. “At present there are many international standards for the equipment, operation and manning aspects; it will be good to have a single international standard and point of reference.”  

The Polar Code will apply to ships constructed on or after 1 January, 2017. Any ships constructed prior will be required to meet the relevant requirements of the Code by its first intermediate or renewal survey (whichever occurs first) after 1 January, 2018.

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BMT Nigel Gee Ltd

Nautilus International

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