• International Code for Ships Operating In Polar Waters (The "Polar Code")
  • January 11, 2016 | Authors: Dionysios Rossi; Graham Walker
  • Law Firm: Borden Ladner Gervais LLP - Vancouver Office
  • The IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (the "MEPC") adopted the environmental requirements of the Polar Code in May 2015. The MEPC also adopted amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships ("MARPOL"), to which Canada is a party, which make the environment-related provisions of the Polar Code mandatory.

    The IMO Maritime Safety Committee had previously adopted the safety provisions of the Polar Code in November 2014.

    The Polar Code is intended to supplement existing IMO instruments by increasing the safety of ships' operation and mitigating the impact on people and the environment in polar waters. It acknowledges that coastal communities could be, and that polar ecosystems are, vulnerable to ship operation and that increased safety measures will benefit the environment by reducing the probability of an accident.

    The Polar Code will restrict waste disposal by ships in the waters around the North Pole and offshore Antarctica by banning discharges of oil or oily mixtures, "noxious liquid substances" or mixtures containing such substances, and animal carcasses. Discharge of food waste will only be permitted when the ship is as far as practicable from areas of ice concentration exceeding 1/10 and not less than 12 nautical miles from the nearest land, ice-shelf or fast ice (i.e. sea ice which forms and remains "fastened" along the coast, where it is attached to the shore, an ice wall, an ice front, or between shoals or grounded icebergs). Food waste will have to be ground before it is discharged and cannot be contaminated with other types of waste. Limitations will also be placed on the discharge of cargo residues, cleaning agents or additives.

    Further, the Polar Code requires ships to consider the presence of marine mammals and their seasonal migration areas in planning their route and to minimize unnecessary disturbances to marine mammals and areas of cultural heritage and significance if these are encountered.

    The Polar Code is expected to come into force on January 1, 2017. Canada is a signatory to MARPOL and most aspects of MARPOL have been adopted under the CSA, 2001, while the sewage discharge provisions of the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act apply to Canadian Arctic Waters because these were stricter than the MARPOL requirements. Canada was actively involved in the development of the Polar Code, though how and when it may be implemented in Canada is unclear at the present time.