ORGANIZATION POLAR CODE
Lawson W. Brigham
Most professionals in the polar and maritime communities are well aware that the International
Maritime Organization (IMO) is developing a mandatory or binding Polar Code for ships
operating in polar waters. Others outside the marine world may have heard of this significant
international effort although much of the work is quite technical and remains under negotiation
by the maritime states. This comment steps back from the Polar Code’s technical details and
presents the broad themes and issues that are being addressed in this historic effort.
The Polar Code at its core addresses marine safety and environmental challenges for ships
operating in remote, sometimes extreme, conditions where marine infrastructure is limited or
non-existent. It is important to also note that the Code is directly related to the future protection
of Arctic people, especially Arctic coastal communities and their traditional lifestyles. The IMO
is seeking a uniform, nondiscriminatory set of rules and regulations for polar ships, which in the
maritime industry will hopefully result in a level playing field for all marine operators.
Importantly, the Code is a set of amendments to existing IMO safety and environmental
protection instruments - the current maritime conventions are being amended to adapt and
enhance ship systems for operations in both
Arctic and Antarctic waters. Boundaries have been delineated in the Arctic (north of 60 degrees
North in the Bering Sea with adjustments further north in the North Atlantic) and Antarctic
(south of 60 degrees South) where the mandatory Polar Code will be applicable. A set of ship
types have evolved in the negotiations where certain operating conditions require more extensive
ship requirements. The new Code will likely require that commercial carriers and passenger ships
Dr. Lawson W. Brigham is a distinguished professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a senior
fellow at the Institute of the North. During 2004-09 he was chair of the Arctic Council's Arctic Marine
Shipping Assessment and is currently a commissioner on the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission. Dr.
Brigham is a member of the Arctic Yearbook’s Editorial Board.