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.