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Polar Code

International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters

IMO has adopted the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code) and related amendments to make it mandatory under both the  International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). The Polar Code entered into force on 1 January 2017. This marks an historic milestone in the Organization’s work to protect ships and people aboard them, both seafarers and passengers, in the harsh environment of the waters surrounding the two poles.
The Polar Code and SOLAS amendments were adopted during the 94th session of IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), in November 2014; the environmental provisions and MARPOL amendments were adopted during the 68th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) in May 2015.

  • The international code for ships operating in polar waters will enter into force on 1 January 2017.
  • It applies to ships operating in arctic and Antarctic waters: additional to existing MARPOL requirements.
  • It provides for safe ship operation and protects the environment by addressing the unique risks present in Polar waters but not covered by other instruments.
How does the Polar Code protect the environment?

  • DISCHARGES : Discharge into the sea of oil or oily mixtures from any ship is prohibited.
  • STRUCTURE : Double hull and double bottom required for all oil tankers, including those less than 5,000dwt (A/B ships constructed on or after 1 January 2017).
  • HEAVY FUEL OIL : Heavy fuel oil is banned in the Antarctic (under MARPOL). Ships are encouraged not to use or carry heavy fuel oil in the Arctic.
  • LUBRICANTS : Consider using non-toxic biodegradable lubricants or water-based systems in lubricated components outside the underwater hull with direct seawater interfaces.

  • No discharge of sewage in polar waters allowed (except under specific circumstances).
  • Sewage not comminuted or disinfected can be discharged at a distance of more than 12nm from any ice shelf or fast ice
  • Comminuted and disinfected sewage can be discharged more than 3nm from any ice shelf or fast ice.
  • TREATMENT PLANTS : Discharge is permitted if ship has an approved sewage treatment plant, and discharges treated sewage as far as practicable from the nearest land, any fast ice, iceshelf, or areas of specified ice concentration.

  • PLASTICS : All disposal of plastics prohibited (under MARPOL).
  • FOOD WASTES I : Discharge of food wastes onto the ice is prohibited.
  • FOOD WASTES II : Food wastes which have been comminuted or ground (no greater than 25mm) can be discharged only when ship is not less than 12nm from the nearest land, nearest ice shelf, or nearest fast ice.
  • ANIMAL CARCASSES : Discharge of animal carcasses is prohibited.
  • CARGO RESIDUES : Cargo residues, cleaning agents or additives in hold washing water may only be discharged if: they are not harmful to the marine environment; both departure and destination ports are within Arctic waters; and there are no adequate reception facilities at those ports. The same requirements apply to Antarctic area under MARPOL.


  • INVASIVE AQUATIC SPECIES : Measures to be taken to minimize the risk of invasive aquatic species through ships’ ballast water and biofouling.


  • Discharge of noxious liquid substances (NLS) or mixtures containing NLS is prohibited in polar waters.

What does the Polar Code mean for ship safety?

Polar Code summary

The Polar Code includes mandatory measures covering safety part (part I-A) and pollution prevention (part II-A) and recommendatory provisions for both (parts I-B and II-B).
The Code will require ships intending to operating in the defined waters of the Antarctic and Arctic to apply for a Polar Ship Certificate, which would classify the vessel as;

  • Category A ship - ships designed for operation in polar waters at least in medium first-year ice, which may include old ice inclusions; 
  • Category B ship - a ship not included in category A, designed for operation in polar waters in at least thin first-year ice, which may include old ice inclusions; or 
  • Category C ship - a ship designed to operate in open water or in ice conditions less severe than those included in Categories A and B.
Ships will need to carry a Polar Water Operational Manual, to provide the Owner, Operator, Master and crew with sufficient information regarding the ship's operational capabilities and limitations in order to support their decision-making process.

The chapters in the Code each set out goals and functional requirements, to include those covering ship structure; stability and subdivision; watertight and weathertight integrity; machinery installations; operational safety;  fire safety/protection; life-saving appliances and arrangements; safety of navigation; communications; voyage planning; manning and training; prevention of oil pollution; prevention of pollution form from noxious liquid substances from ships; prevention of pollution by sewage from ships; and prevention of pollution by discharge of garbage from ships.

Protection of the Antarctic from heavy grade oils

A  MARPOL regulation, to protect the Antarctic from pollution by heavy grade oils, was adopted by the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), at its 60th session in March, 2010. The amendments entered into force on 1 August 2011.

The amendments add a new chapter 9 to MARPOL Annex I with a new regulation 43 which prohibits the carriage in bulk as cargo, or carriage and use as fuel, of: crude oils having a density at 15°C higher than 900 kg/m3; oils, other than crude oils, having a density at 15°C higher than 900 kg/m3 or a kinematic viscosity at 50°C higher than 180 mm2/s; or bitumen, tar and their emulsions. An exception is envisaged for vessels engaged in securing the safety of ships or in a search and rescue operation.

Under the Polar Code ships are encouraged not to use or carry heavy fuel oil in the Arctic.

Source: IMO


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