IMO Adopts Polar Code Amendments to STCW

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© Neste Shipping Oy (reprinted in Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment, 2009)

By Craig H. Allen 2016-12-06 15:19:24

At its November 21-25, 2016 meeting, the International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) adopted resolution MSC.416(97), which amends the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978, along with resolution MSC.417(97), which amends Part A of the STCW Code. The amendments take effect on July 1, 2018 – not January 1, 2018, as previously announced. The additional six months will give maritime training centers the time needed to recruit qualified instructors and prepare courses for approval.

The key finding that justifies the additional requirements in the Polar Code is that the hazards of vessel operations in the “Polar Waters” of the Arctic (generally, waters north of 60°N, with a cut-out for Iceland and Norway) and Antarctic (waters south of 60°S) are not adequately addressed by the existing international standards in the SOLAS, MARPOL and STCW conventions. The 1982 Law of the Sea Convention similarly recognized the unique threats and challenges of vessel operations in ice-covered waters in Article 234 of the convention, which authorizes coastal states to prescribe rules that exceed the generally accepted international rules and standards in ice-covered areas within the state’s exclusive economic zone.

Each chapter of the Polar Code begins with the overall chapter goals, the functional requirements to fulfill those goals and the regulations. Chapter 12 of Part I-A of the Code addresses the mandatory manning and training requirements for vessels subject to the Code (note: no “additional guidance” on chapter 12 is provided in Part I-B of the Polar Code). Those requirements, which are implemented by amendments to chapter V of the STCW Convention and Code (Special Training Requirements for Personnel on Certain Types of Ships) just adopted by the MSC, are designed to ensure that ships operating in Polar Waters are appropriately manned by adequately qualified, trained and experienced personnel. Chapter 12 requires that every crew member serving on a covered vessel operating in Polar Waters be familiar with the procedures and equipment contained or referenced in the ship’s Polar Water Operational Manual (PWOM) that are relevant to their assigned duties. It also sets out specialized training and certification requirements for masters, chief mates and officers in charge of a navigational watch on certain ships operating in Polar Waters. Application of those requirements turn on the category of vessel (tanker, passenger vessel or other (cargo) vessel) and the extent of ice coverage in the Polar Waters over which the vessel will operate (i.e., ice free waters, open waters or other waters).

The lowest risk category, “Ice free waters,” are defined in the Polar Code as waters where no ice of any kind is present. There are no Polar Code training and certification requirements for vessels of any category operating in Polar Waters that meet the ice free waters definition.

“Open waters” are defined as a large area of freely navigable waters in which sea ice is present in concentrations less than 1/10 and no ice of land origin is present. There are no additional Polar Code training and certification requirements for “other” (i.e., cargo) vessels operating in open waters. However, the master, chief mate and officers in charge of a navigational watch on tankers or passenger vessels operating in such waters must hold a certificate in basic training for ships operating in Polar Waters, after satisfactorily completing approved basic training and meeting the specified standard of competence [described below].

In “other waters” (those with more than 1/10 ice cover or with any ice of land origin) the Code requirements do not distinguish among the vessel types. Masters and chief mates on all covered vessels (cargo, tank and passenger vessels) must hold a certificate in advanced training and meet the above-described requirements for certification in basic training and the specified standards of competence. Officers in charge of a navigational watch on such vessels must hold a basic training certificate and meet the related competence standards, but they are not required to hold the advanced training certificate.

Applicants for Polar Waters certification must demonstrate competence in the following tasks: (1) contributing to the safe operation and maneuvering of vessels operating in Polar Waters; (2) monitoring and ensuring compliance with legislative requirements; (3) applying safe working practices and responding to emergencies; (4) ensuring compliance with pollution prevention requirements; (5) planning and conducting a voyage in Polar Waters; (6) managing the safe operation of a vessel operating in Polar Waters; and (7) maintaining safety of the ship's crew and passengers and the operational condition of life-saving, firefighting and other safety systems. The STCW competency requirements will be complemented by the requirement that all vessel crewmembers must be familiar with their vessel’s PWOM, which will include, among other things, provisions on risk management and emergency response operations specific to the vessel while operating in Polar Waters.

While operating in Polar Waters vessels must have enough officers meeting the above training requirements to cover all watches and meet the minimum hours of rest requirements at all times. Masters, chief mates and watch officers who plan to sail Polar Waters will have 18 months to acquire the necessary training. During that period, ship owners, operators and masters should refer to IMO Circular STCW.6/Circ. 12, which the IMO issued to provide recommended provisions for applying the amendments beginning on January 1, 2017, when the other components of the Polar Code go into effect.

Current guidance for U.S. maritime training centers on implementing the training requirements for personnel on Polar Code vessels can be found in Coast Guard Policy Letter No. 01-16, issued in anticipation of the Polar Code coming into force in 2017.

Some maritime training institutions, such as MITAGS-PMI’s west coast campus, are already at work developing Polar Waters training programs for approval by the Administration. The new STCW amendments include transitional provisions that will allow seafarers who began approved seagoing service in Polar Waters before July 1, 2018 to meet alternative basic training or advanced requirements by July 1, 2020.

Craig H. Allen Sr. is the Judson Falknor Professor of Law and of Marine Affairs at the University of Washington, where he directs the university’s Arctic Law and Policy Institute. He is also a Fellow in the Coast Guard’s Center for Arctic Study and Policy at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.