The International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (“Polar Code”) is one of the most interesting pieces of international regulation to come into force in 2017. It has major consequences for the fast-growing market of expedition cruises in the Arctic and Antarctic.
Adopted by the IMO in 2014, the Code was introduced as a result of melting in some areas of the North and South Poles during specific seasons. Reduced ice cover means new routes in these usually inaccessible areas are opening up. There’s a need to ensure the safety of ships operating in these harsh, cold conditions. The pristine environments in these areas must also be protected from pollution caused by ships.
The Polar Code is mandatory within clearly defined Arctic and Antarctic waters, and applies to new ships constructed on or after 1 January 2017. Ships constructed before 1 January 2017 and operating in the areas defined in the Code must meet its relevant requirements by the first intermediate or renewal survey, whichever occurs first, after 1 January 2018.
The focal points of the new Code are safety, pollution prevention, manning, training and qualification of the ship’s personnel. Since master and crew qualifications play a crucial role, the Seafarers’ Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) Code has been amended to take into account the Polar Code. Design, construction and maintenance are other key areas affected.
The core of the Polar Code certification is an operational assessment to establish procedures and operational limitations for a particular ship. The assessment determines the content of the Polar Waters Operational Manual (PWOM), a manual that must be kept on board to support the master and crew when sailing in these areas.
The above procedure makes the application of the Polar Code very interesting to ships built before 1 January 2017. Certain modifications may make these ships eligible for Polar Code certification in restricted areas of great interest from a business point of view. There are some design- and structural-related operational limitations. However, modifications may sometimes consist of measures such as providing appropriate clothing, upgrading life-saving appliances and installing ice removal equipment.
RINA is deeply involved in activities related to the assessment of existing ships for the polar expedition cruise market. Our work includes tailoring the ships’ upgrade in order to comply with the requirements of the Polar Code on specific routes requested by operators.
In addition to the Polar Code assessment, surveys and certification process, RINA also assists with the application of flag administration requirements related to the Code, plus national requirements for waters where the ship is expected to sail.