Å seile ruten gjennom Nordøstpassasjen (blå) er betydelig kortere enn den ordinære ruten mot øst. Men forholdene er utfordrende. Foto: Wikimedia
The commission is expected to adopt the environmental requirements of the mandatory International Code for ships operating in polar waters. As this illustration clearly shows the sailing route through the Northeast Passage (blue line) is significantly shorter than the ordinary route to the east (red line). (Illustration: Wikimedia Commons)

New Rules to Ensure Cleaner Shipping in the Arctic

The fragile and increasingly ice-free waters of the Arctic are expected to benefit from tougher environmental rules likely to be passed this week when an international  body holds a final vote on northern shipping regulations.

The new rules are expected to take effect on January. 1, 2017, The Canadian Press reports in Kingston Region.  

The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) met at IMO Headquarters in London on Monday for its 68th and weeklong session.

– Still significant gaps

Environmental groups at the meeting say that the proposed measures for the Polar Code still leave significant gaps.

– It’s a big step forward but there’s a ways to go, said Kevin Harun of Pacific Environment, a U.S.-based group that has been part of the talks.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), sponsored by the United Nation, is a body that sets shipping rules for oceans. The organization gave preliminary approval to a series of environmental measures last fall.

IMO is scheduled to take a final vote on the measures this week, and they are expected to pass. They various measures include a ban on the discharge of oil, oily water or noxious chemicals.

– That’s stricter than the rules for other oceans, said Harun.

– That’s a real big first for a region, he said.

Heavy fuel oil still a problem

The proposals also limit the discharge of food waste. Any such waste would have to be ground and dumped at least 20 kilometres from land or the nearest ice. 

Canada already have regulations for territorial waters in the Arctic that are more stringent than the proposals, but national rules don’t cover the central Arctic Ocean.

The proposals offer added protection for that area. According to Harun the proposals don’t ban the use of heavy fuel oil, and that is considered a problem:

– It’s thick, viscous, dirty, persistent, doesn’t evaporate and would be a real disaster if there was a spill. They haven’t dealt with that at all, Harud said.

Heavy fuel oil is a major source of black carbon which is considered a significant climate forcing agent. Black carbon warms the Earth by absorbing heat in the atmosphere, and by redusing albedo, the ability to reflect sunlight, when deposited on snow and ice. 


Several countries oppose

– There was a real hope the IMO would extend that ban, Arctic law expert and University of British Columbia professor Michael Byers said.

Still, he points out, the heavy fuel burned by most of the ships plying the Arctic is already banned in the Antarctic. Reputable shippers already live up to what will be the new requirements, Michael Byers said.

According to the Canadian Press the ban was opposed by countries with a large number of ships under their flags.Russia, which is trying to promote the use of its Northern Sea Route, also opposed it.


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