More Force Needed in New Polar Shipping Rules

Posted on 01 January 2017

​More Force Needed in New Polar Shipping Rules

More Force Needed in New Polar Shipping Rules 

The start of the new year signals the entry into force of new rules that affect polar shipping, the “Polar Code”. The code will lead to improvements in shipping safety in the Arctic and Antarctic, but leaves out critical rules to help safeguard the environment, and food security for Arctic communities.

“As Arctic ice continues its retreat, there is no doubt that more ships will enter the Arctic, and will stay there longer, bringing more risk of spills and other environmental impacts,” said WWF spokesperson Rod Downie. “The Polar Code has improved rules for polar shipping, but it has also left gaping holes. Heavy fuels, discharges, marine noise, invasive species, and air pollution all need action from the international community.”

One issue not covered is the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by Arctic shipping to mirror the provisions in the Antarctic. The thick, toxic fuel is hard to clean up in the best of conditions. In the Arctic effective clean-up is impossible due to ice, severe weather and limited infrastructure. A spill could spread over thousands of square kilometres, kill hundreds of thousands of seabirds, and have long term impacts on the marine ecosystem that will harm local livelihoods and food security such as fisheries.

Another issue left out by the first phase of Polar Code is coverage of smaller vessels such as fishing boats.  

 “Over the last decade, almost 150 crew have tragically lost their lives as a result of fishing vessel incidents in polar waters,” said Downie. “When fishing vessels sink, hundreds of kilometres of fishing lines and hooks, nets, fuels, heavy oils and other debris can be released into the ocean posing a threat to whales, seals and other marine life. There is still an opportunity to include smaller vessels in international shipping rules. A meeting of the International Maritime Organization in London in February could put it on the international shipping agenda.”

“The Polar Code is a good step forward, but it does not mean the job is done”, added Downie. “WWF will keep pushing for better shipping rules for the polar regions, and for the IMO to pay attention to the voice of Arctic Indigenous peoples.”

For further information, please contact: 
Rod Downie, Polar Programme Manager, WWF-UK  +44 (0)7913 129818


About WWF
WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with almost five million supporters and a global network active in more than 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.
Arctic shipping
Ship in ice near Ilulissat, Greenland, Summer 2012.
© Clive Tesar / WWF-Canon