Over the past four years annual Polar transits have increased from a mere four to more than 60, says the Swedish Club, and there is no sign it will slacken off. While the shipping industry is taking climate change in its stride even minor incidents while have potentially major impacts, both on the environment and politically, yet there is no internationally agreed polar code, or regime, for ice navigation.
Ice navigation requires a very special skills set to avoid accidents and help and incident mitigation will be difficult given polar conditions. Navigation equipment such as compasses and charts can be unreliable at these latitudes and radar returns may be misleading – aircraft have crashed when relying on radar to determine height, for instance. Yet as longer ice-free summers and increased offshore operations focus attention on the polar regions, transits to and from the Arctic ports are set to increase significantly.
Says ttje Swedish Club: “These routes are like no other, requiring a completely new mindset and an understanding of the importance of the risk assessments and regulations necessary for the success of the voyage. There are a very limited number of polar navigators and few crew with experience of navigating in the polar regions. Consequently, to ensure safe passage The Swedish Club recommends that the ship owner consults their club or underwriter to obtain proper advice on the enhanced risks connected with trading in these waters, ensuring they embark upon any voyage as well prepared as possible”.
Lars Malm, Director, Strategic Business Development & Client Relationship for The Swedish Club warns: “As summer approaches in the northern hemisphere and operators look to take up the increased opportunities that the opening of the routes offers, it is easy to forget that transiting the polar regions requires a unique set of skills.”
“Accident avoidance is key. If a casualty was to occur, assistance would be limited due to the lack of infrastructure, and freezing temperatures can seriously impair the operations of any salvage equipment that can get through, escalating a minor incident into a serious casualty. We are dealing with temperatures as low as -50oC with icebergs as hard as concrete floating in unsurveyed waters.”
“The lack of a coherent ice regimen across the regions also adds to the difficulties,” explains Malm. “For example, at present there are only two Arctic ice-regimes – the Russian and Canadian ice regimes. The Polar Code developed by the IMO is now awaiting ratification, but with the rules that are in force today, a vessel should operate in these areas as if it were sailing under an ice regime.”
Download the Swedish Club brochure, ‘Ice – Advice for trading in polar regions here’