Filling holes in polar shipping rules | WWF

Filling holes in polar shipping rules

Posted on
20 March 2014
The recent announcement that insurer Lloyds of London is adopting its own Arctic shipping guidelines highlights troubling gaps in a coming set of shipping regulations, says Lars Erik Mangset, climate and sustainable industries advisor for WWF-Norway, in a letter to The Arctic Journal.

Read the op-ed

The Polar Code sets rules for ships operating in polar waters. It is being developed by the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency that specializes in shipping. The process of negotiating the code is nearly complete, but the current draft of the Code does not adequately address the risks of Arctic shipping, raising concerns not just from WWF, but from the insurers that assume those risks.

"Factors like a lack of infrastructure, challenging communication environments, a lack of reliable ice and iceberg data and the ability to predict the presence of old-ice inclusions in first-year sea ice are not addressed by the Polar Code, even though they provide significant risks to ships and thus to their insurers", says Mangset.
By proposing additional guidelines, Lloyds is both providing guidance on implementing the Polar Code and addressing its weaknesses. It is likely that more insurance companies will scrutinize the Polar Code and its enforcement, and follow Lloyd’s example of issuing their own dedicated standards to guide their customers when operating in this challenging environment.
Shipping in the Arctic is already increasing. It brings with it the possibility of more jobs, but also potential dangers. The Northwest Passage route (over the top of Canada) would save two weeks in travelling time versus the Panama Canal, while the Northern Sea Route (over the top of Russia) is considered an even better bet in terms of its navigability. Although the routes will not be open year round, companies are already investing billions of dollars in tankers capable of going through ice.
© WWF / Bryan Alexander/