Sustainable Arctic Shipping: Are Current International Rules for Polar Shipping Sufficient?

Aldo Chircop


On January 1, 2017, the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code) will enter into force, ushering in a new era in regulation of shipping in Arctic and Antarctic waters. The Polar Code was adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) after years of difficult deliberations. The adoption of the Code required amendment of two of the most important conventions concerning safety of life at sea and vessel-source pollution. A third convention on standards of training for seafarers was also amended after the Code was adopted and the changes will come into effect on January 1, 2018. To put the importance of this development into perspective, it suffices to observe that before the adoption of the Polar Code, Arctic waters received far less international legal protection from shipping activities than the Baltic Sea, Mediterranean Sea and North Sea. When the hazardous navigation conditions, environmental uniqueness and threats to the activities of the indigenous peoples for whom the Arctic is home are considered, the insufficient protection is even more obvious (Figure 1). As vessel activities in Arctic waters grow, there will be a commensurate increase of risks to human life, environment, wildlife and well-being of indigenous communities. International and domestic regulation of shipping is critical to promote maritime safety, preservation of the marine environment and protection of local economies from potential casualties. Considering what is at stake, is shipping regulation sufficient to ensure navigation safety and environment protection in the Arctic? This essay considers global, regional and national initiatives and how they support sustainable Arctic shipping.


Environmental Law; Maritime Law

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