IMO Backing Antarctic Ship Review

The IMO's environment committee recognized campaigners' fears that the continent's waters are at risk from the rising number of ships coming to the area. Environmentalists said the sinking of the M/S Explorer in 2007 was a wake-up call to tighten rules in the region.

Over the past decade the number of tourist has grown substantially. In fact, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators said that approximately 37,552 tourists visited Antarctica during 2006-07, with the majority arriving by sea.

The IMO is concerned many of the vessels arriving in the region are not ice-strengthened, making serious accidents more likely and increasing the risk of an oil spill.

The M/S Explorer most likely hit an iceberg, resulting in its sinking and the rescue of its passengers and crew. The IMO has documented six incidents that may have had significant environmental risks. A spokesman for the IMO said the committee had discussed the issue, and called on nations to submit proposals to address the concerns outlined in the paper.

The five-day meeting held in London also approved plans to amend regulations to reduce emissions from ships. The main change would lead to a reduction in sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from the world's fleet. The regulations have been ratified by 49 nations, which account for almost three-quarters of the globe's merchant vessels. The IMO has also established a working group to look at ways to curb greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide. It is scheduled to complete its work in 2009, in time for the IMO to submit its findings and recommendations to a key UN climate conference.

List of ship mishaps:

*November 2006: tourist ship M/V Lyubov Orlova runs aground in South Shetlands

*January 2007: the M/V Nordkapp, also carrying tourists, spills fuel during a grounding

*February 2007: Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru suffers a serious fire, eventually limping back to port.

*November 2007: M/S Explorer, holed probably by an iceberg, sinks off the Antarctic Peninsula, with 100 people rescued

*December 2007: yet another tourist vessel, the M/V Fram, loses power and drifts into an iceberg

IMO Statement:

Ships operating in the Arctic environment are exposed to a number of unique risks. Poor weather conditions and the relative lack of good charts, communication systems and other navigational aids pose challenges for mariners. The remoteness of the areas makes rescue or clean up operations difficult and costly. Cold temperatures may reduce the effectiveness of numerous components of the ship, ranging from deck machinery and emergency equipment to sea suctions. When ice is present, it can impose additional loads on the hull, propulsion system and appendages.

The Guidelines for ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters are intended to address those additional provisions deemed necessary for consideration beyond existing requirements of the SOLAS Convention, in order to take into account the climatic conditions of Arctic ice-covered waters and to meet appropriate standards of maritime safety and pollution prevention. The Guidelines aim to promote the safety of navigation and to prevent pollution from ship operations in Arctic ice-covered waters, and are currently recommendatory.

Not all ships which enter the Arctic environment will be able to navigate safely in all areas at all times of the year. A system of Polar Classes has therefore been developed to designate different levels of capability. In parallel to the development of the Guidelines, the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) has developed a set of Unified Requirements which, in addition to general classification society rules, address all essential aspects of construction for ships of Polar Class.

Meanwhile, the Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Equipment (DE), at its 50th session in March 2007, commenced work on developing amendments to the Guidelines for ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters to make them applicable to ships operating in the Antarctic Treaty Area.

Extension of the Guidelines to ships operating in the Antarctic:

The Sub-Committee on ship Design and Equipment (DE), at its 50th session in March 2007, began work on developing amendments to the Guidelines for ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters to make them applicable to ships operating in the Antarctic Treaty Area.

In addition to the inclusion of provisions relating to operation of ships in the Antarctic region, it was agreed that the Guidelines also needed to be generally updated in order to take into account technical developments since their approval in 2002, especially with regard to damage stability, double bottoms and the carriage of pollutants in spaces adjacent to the outer hull. The update should also consider the particularities of the Southern hemisphere with regard to environmental and port State control issues and should take account of the IACS Unified Requirements for polar ships and the Finnish ice navigation rules.

The Sub-Committee noted the view that special consideration should be given to passenger ships that only visit the Polar region in summer.

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