The new draft Polar Code fails to address the looming danger of having non ice-strengthened and poorly prepared ships in supposedly ‘ice-free’ polar waters, environmental organizations have warned.
The comment is made in a statement on behalf of Seas at Risk and Transport & Environment, as members of the Clean Shipping Coalition, as well as the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, Friends of the Earth US and Pacific Environment.
Blinded by the prospect of ‘ice-free’ operations enabled by the sea ice melt, IMO makes the fateful assumption that these ships can safely operate without special hull protection or restrictions such as reduced speed, argues the environmental group Transport and Environment based in Belgium.
The Polar Code’s environmental chapter also lacks ambition, says the group. Residual heavy ship fuel oil, the dirtiest type of fuel used in the transport sector, would have a catastrophic environmental impact if spilled and is already banned in Antarctic waters, but the IMO dismissed the issue outright for the Arctic. Black carbon emissions – widely recognized as the second most important agent of climate change after CO2 – ballast water and oil spills have also not been addressed.
Bill Hemmings, on behalf of the environmental organizations, commented: “A Polar Code which fails to address the major environmental dangers of increased shipping opens the door to potentially catastrophic consequences should a disaster happen. Environmental protection has essentially been put on the back-burner through the active lobbying of the shipping and cruise industry which consistently dismisses ecological concerns.
“This is a disgraceful illustration of big business working behind closed doors to advance its own corporate interests before those of mankind and the unique polar environment. When the next big incident happens in polar waters the public will know where responsibility lies.”
The Polar Code will supplement relevant regulations, including SOLAS and MARPOL, for ships operating in polar waters in order to address the risks that are specific to operations in polar waters, taking into account the extreme environmental conditions and the remoteness of operation. The code addresses ship’s construction standards, polar safety equipment, and the requirements for a qualified ice navigator.