IMO Adopts Landmark ‘Polar Code’ MARPOL Rules

arctic shipping ice icebreaking
Image (c) Maksim Rumiantcev/shutterstock.com

The International Maritime Organization this week adopted the pollution prevention provisions of the long-awaited ‘Polar Code’, setting the first-ever international environmental and safety standards for ships trading in the world’s polar regions.

The environmental portion of the International Code for ships operating in polar waters (Polar Code) and associated MARPOL amendments were adopted by the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) during its 68th session held from May 11 to 15 at IMO Headquarters in London.

The Polar Code is the first mandatory blanket legislation for ships that specifically addresses potential hazards unique to arctic and antarctic environments, such as ice, remoteness and rapidly changing and severe weather conditions, covering the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue and environmental protection matters. Because it contains both safety and environment related provisions, the Polar Code will be mandatory under both International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL).

Infographic: What the Polar Code Means for Ship Safety

The environmental provisions include amendments that will help prevent pollution from ships by prohibiting the discharge of oil and noxious liquid substances into the sea, and regulating the discharge of sewage and garbage.

The adoption into MARPOL follows the adoption by the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in December 2014  of safety-related (SOLAS) requirements of the Code. (See Also: IMO Adopts Polar Code SOLAS Requirements)

While the adoption of the Polar Code is considered by many as a major step forward for shipping in the arctic, critics argue that the Code will fail to protect the Arctic and Antarctic environments because it does not fully prevent the discharge of raw sewage into the sea, require new practices to protect against invasive species, or adequately equip ships and crews to deal with minor spills.

The complete Polar Code is expected to enter into force on January 1, 2017 and will apply to new ships constructed on or after January 1, 2017. Ships constructed before that date will be required to meet the relevant requirements by the first intermediate or renewal survey before January 1, 2018. ?

Polar Code Environmental Bullet Points:

  • Prevention of pollution by oil: discharge into the sea of oil or oily mixtures from any ship is prohibited. Oil fuel tanks must be separated from outer shell;
  • Prevention of pollution by noxious liquid substances: discharge into the sea of noxious liquid substances, or mixtures containing such substances is prohibited;
  • Prevention of pollution by sewage; discharge of sewage is prohibited unless performed in line with MARPOL Annex IV and requirements in the Polar Code; and
  • Prevention of pollution by garbage: discharge of garbage is restricted and only permitted in accordance with MARPOL Annex V and requirements in the Polar Code