New Polar Code fails to protect Antarctic waters

The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition today voiced its disappointment over the lack of any significant new provisions in Part II of the Polar Code that  would adequately protect the Antarctic environment from shipping.  The London-based UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) today adopted Part II of the Polar Code concerning pollution prevention.

Part II of the newly adopted Code addresses pollution discharges from ships such as oil, chemicals, sewage and rubbish while at sea and is expected to strengthen existing regulations particularly in the Arctic. It will compliment Part I, which addresses safety of shipping in polar regions and was adopted towards the end of 2014. Both Parts of the Code are expected to take effect from the beginning of 2017.

“While ASOC welcomes the adoption of Part II of the Polar Code on pollution prevention and that Arctic waters will now receive the same protection as already in place for Antarctica, we remain extremely disappointed that the International Maritime Organization has missed a unique opportunity to improve protection of Antarctic waters”, said Sian Prior, Shipping Advisor to the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition.

Prior continued: “ASOC believes that an effective Polar Code should require vessels sailing in Antarctic waters to:

  •   Completely stop discharging raw sewage. Under Part II, raw sewage discharge will continue to be allowed beyond 12nm from land, ice shelves or fast ice and as far as practicable from areas of ice concentration exceeding 1/10 (i.e. 1 in 10) ice cover.

  •         Be required to introduce practices which to prevent the introduction of invasive alien species. Part II refers to existing guidance on ballast water discharges in the Antarctic and global guidelines on hull fouling, but fails to introduce any new mandatory or voluntary requirements to prevent or minimise the risks of introducing invasive alien species.

  •         Be adequately equipped and crews trained to deal with minor spills. While some vessels will carry the necessary equipment, the Code does not explicitly spell out what should happen in the event of an oil or chemical spill. The inclusion of specific provisions in the Code could have tailored existing requirements to the special needs of polar waters.”

Founded in 1978, ASOC is the only non-governmental organization working full time to preserve the Antarctic continent and its surrounding Southern Ocean. A coalition of over 30 NGOs interested in Antarctic environmental protection, ASOC represents the environmental community at Antarctic governance meetings and works to promote important Antarctic conservation goals.


Sian Prior, Shipping Advisor, Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, [email protected], tel: +44 7785 74 79 45

Dave Walsh, Communications Director, Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition,  [email protected], tel +32 493 140 966

Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition:



November 21 2014: ASOC: Polar Code too weak to properly protect polar environments from increased shipping activity


  •        In November 2014, the first part of a new legally-binding mandatory instrument – the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Wates or “Polar Code” was adopted in response to the increasing numbers of ships operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters. Part I of the Code addressed the safety of shipping in polar waters and identifies the measures required over and above standard shipping regulations to ensure ships can operate safely.    


  • The Code will currently only apply to cargo vessels of 500GT or over and cruise ships, but it is anticipated that further work will be undertaken to identify the needs of other vessels, in particular fishing vessels and private vessels.


  •      Part II of the Code which addresses pollution prevention from shipping is due to be adopted towards the end of week 11th – 15th May 2015 by the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).


  •        The Polar Code is anticipated to come into force from 1 January 2017.


  •        During work to extend existing Arctic Guidelines to cover Antarctic waters (in 2008 / 2009) it became apparent that there was strong support for a mandatory and legally binding instrument for shipping in polar waters.


  •        In February 2010, the IMO started a major new initiative – the development of a legally binding Polar Code to cover both Arctic and Antarctic waters. The work was complex covering many aspects of international shipping in polar waters, and the timescale for completion was inevitably long.


  •        A range of hazards are experienced in polar regions which are not routinely experienced in other parts of the world, and unless these are addressed, not only will shipping in polar regions be a more hazardous activity, the threat to polar habitats and wildlife will be higher.


  •        Ice – in the form of ice fields, ice bergs, chunks of ice in the water or ice accumulating on the vessel and external equipment - is the most obvious hazard for shipping in polar waters. Other hazards include operations in cold temperatures, high latitudes, lack of accurate charting, and lack of infrastructure, in particular for search and rescue operations but also for environmental response.


  •        The polar regions differ to the rest of the world in how they might be affected by international shipping. In polar regions, there are huge populations of wildlife feeding in concentrated areas due to the high productivity of the oceans, and all are completely dependent on the living resources in the oceans – there is no food on land for marine mammals and seabirds which can congregate in thousands, tens of thousands, even millions for some seabirds. Even a small oil spill adjacent to a penguin colony could be devastating.


  •        Oil discharges and spills and chemical spills will persist for much longer in the colder polar waters, thus having a greater impact on wildlife, both directly through oiling and indirectly because of the impact on food.


  •        The polar regions are some of the most undisturbed regions on the planet, as a result they are more vulnerable to impacts and changes, as they haven’t had to respond to previous exposures to pollutants, to introduced species, etc.


  •        The waters south of 60o South (the Antarctic Area) have been designated as an Special Area for the purposes of MARPOL Annex I addressing oil discharges, Annex II addressing noxious liquid discharges, and Annex V on garbage.


  •        A new regulation has been adopted preventing the use or carriage of heavy fuel oil in ships operating in Antarctic waters, because of the potential impact on the environment should there be a spill. (MARPOL 73/78 Regulation 43 Special requirements for the use or carriage of oils in the Antarctic area.)


  •        Guidelines have been adopted on the management of ballast water discharge which has the potential to introduce non-native or alien species which could become invasive into the Antarctic (Guidelines for ballast water exchange in the Antarctic Treaty area (Resolution MEPC.163(56).).


  •        In 2012, the Antarctic & Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) submitted a paper to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) identifying 20 vessel incidents, which occurred in Antarctic waters between 2006 and 2012, ranging from groundings and collisions with ice, to besetment in ice, mechanical failures, and on-board fires. (ATCM XXXV IP 53 Follow-up to Vessel Incidents in Antarctic Waters. Submitted by ASOC.)


  •        One of the most significant incidents occurred in November 2007, when the cruise ship M/S Explorer was holed by ice and sank. Fortunately all passengers and crew were rescued, however it is recognised in the investigation by Liberian authorities that the sea conditions at the time that the vessel sustained the damage until the passengers and crew were safely transferred to another vessel contributed to the successful rescue. If the weather conditions had deteriorated more rapidly it is speculated that the outcome might have been different.  (Republic of Liberia, 2009. Report of Investigation in the Matter of Sinking of Passenger Vessel EXPLORER (O.N. 8495) 23 November 2007 in the Bransfield Strait near the South Shetland Islands. Bureau of Maritime Affairs, 26 March 2009, Monrovia, Liberia.)


  •        Part I of the Code focuses on safety of shipping in polar waters and addresses a wide range of safety measures including the need for ships to have a polar certificate and requirements for each vessel to carry a polar water operational manual. It also includes specific provisions covering the structure and stability of ships including a ships’ stability if damaged, a ships’ watertight and weathertight integrity, machinery installations, fire safety and protection, life-saving appliances and arrangements, safety of navigation, communication requirements, voyage planning, and manning and training for masters, officers and crew.


  •        Part II of the Polar Code, to be adopted between 11th – 15th May, will not provide significant additional protection for Antarctic waters because there are already a number of regulations in place which effectively ban the discharge of oil, noxious liquids and various forms of garbage into Antarctic waters. The Code will, however, improve the protection afforded to Arctic waters from the discharge of these wastes, bringing the requirements for Arctic waters more in line with the existing protections in place in Antarctica.


  •        There has been no significant consideration of the threat posed by invasive species introduced via ballast discharges or through hull fouling; of grey water which is produced in large volumes on cruise ships and is currently completely unregulated at a global level; or of discharges of black carbon from ships’ air emissions. Recognising the wide range of potential impacts in polar waters and the particular vulnerability of the environment and wildlife, other potential threats from shipping which should be considered further and appropriate measures introduced into the Code include emissions to air (of SOx and NOx), responding to oil and cargo spills, ship strikes of slow moving wildlife, and antifouling emissions.