28 Oktober 2014

[281014.EN.SEA] Despite Russian Objections, UN Polar Code Closer to Being Law of the Sea

ENVIRONMENTAL provisions in a proposed International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters, also known as the Polar Code, has won approval to become mandatory from a United Nations body despite Russian objections.

Aspects of the Polar Code may well become law in as soon as November 17-21 when the UN's International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) maritime safety committee meets to consider adopting it into its Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention.

Unlike most laws passed by legislatures, these come as amendments to existing treaties, requiring little if any legislative oversight, but cobbled together by civil servants assigned to UN agencies.

The UN's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) said that it would consider the code for adoption in May with a view to have enter into force in January 2017, reported London's Tanker Operator.

The draft Polar Code covers the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue and environmental protection matters relevant to ships operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters.

But Russian deputy Transport Minister Victor Clerks, whose country is involved in Arctic more than any other, recently warned that the code would be hard, if not impossible, to live by and detrimental to shipping.

Speaking to journalists at a Copenhagen shipping conference, about banning overboard discharges, he said smaller vessels operating between Russia's Arctic ports would have difficulty complying with all that was demanded in the code.

There was also the unspoken issue of the number of icebreakers in the Arctic that may have to comply with the Polar Code, with Mr Clerks suggesting that state-owned and operated icebreakers could be exempt like warships.

The environmental provisions added requirements to those already contained the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (Marpol) to be applied to ships operating in polar waters.

The Antarctic, an international scientific preserve and of no immediate commercial value, is already established as a Special Area under MARPOL with stringent restrictions on discharges. The new Polar Code aims to replicate these provisions in the Far North.

Mandatory provisions include prohibiting any discharge into the sea of oil or oily mixtures from any ship, as well as structural requirements including protective location of fuel-oil and cargo tanks.

"Control of pollution by noxious liquid substances in bulk, prohibiting any discharge into the sea of noxious liquid substances, or mixtures containing such substances.

"Prevention of pollution by sewage from ships, prohibiting the discharge of sewage except for comminuted [reduced to tiny particles] and disinfected sewage under specific circumstances, including a specified distance from ice.

"Prevention of pollution by garbage from ships, adding additional restrictions to the permitted discharges (under MARPOL Annex V, discharge of all garbage into the sea is prohibited, except as provided otherwise)."

Source : HKSG.

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