IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu is preparing to depart on a 5-day fact-finding mission through the arctic that could potentially influence future regulation in the region.
Mr. Sekimizu will make the trip as a guest of the Russian government aboard the nuclear-powered icebreaker, 50 Let Pobedy, as she transits the famed Northern Sea Route linking Europe and northern Russia.
The trip comes on the heels of an increased interest within the global shipping community in utilizing the Northern Sea Route, as well as other northern passages, as Arctic sea ice recedes and the navigation season becomes longer.
The voyage is scheduled to commence this Thursday, August 5, from the port of Dikson, in the Kara Sea, before making the 1,680 nm trek to Pevek, in the East Siberian Sea. The vessel is scheduled to transit the Kara Sea, Taymyr peninsula, Shokalsky Strait, Severnaya Zemlya archipelagos, Laptev Sea, Sannikov Strait, Novosibirskie Islands and the East-Siberian Sea.
Other members of trip include high level officials from the Russian Government and from the shipping industry, among them Victor Olerskiy, Deputy Minister of Transport of the Russian Federation, Vyacheslav Ruksha, Director General of the Federal State Enterprise Atomflot, and Yury Melenas, the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to IMO.
During the voyage, Sekimizu will see first hand the effects of climate change on the sea ice coverage, and assess how the facilities and infrastructure needed for Arctic navigation are being developed along the Siberian coastline. The trip is also expected to provide an opportunity to discuss matters such as the logistics and supplies required to support Arctic navigation, the need for special qualifications for ships’ officers operating in the region and for the provision of adequate ice-breaking capability.
Sekimizu will use the voyage to observe and experience the inherent difficulties of Arctic navigation, such as poor weather conditions and the relative lack of reliable charts, communication systems and other navigational aids that pose challenges for mariners. The remoteness of the area makes rescue or clean-up operations difficult and costly; cold temperatures may reduce the effectiveness of numerous components of the ship, ranging from deck machinery and emergency equipment to sea suctions and, when ice is present, it can impose additional loads on the hull, propulsion system and appendages.
IMO is currently developing a draft international code of safety for ships operating in polar waters, known as the Polar Code, which would cover the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue and environmental protection matters relevant to ships operating in the inhospitable waters surrounding the two poles.
With his Russian hosts, Sekimizu will discuss broader issues related to Arctic navigation, such as the degree and nature of the responsibility borne by coastal States for the maintenance and support needed for such navigation; the implementation of the relevant provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other measures, such as the Polar Code, the potential for offshore exploration and the protection of the unique marine environment in the Arctic Ocean.
In 2012, 46 vessels sailed the whole Northern Sea Route, an increase from 34 in 2011 and only four in 2010, and it would seem that 2013 is set to be a record year for maritime activity on the route, IMO says.