The rise of Arctic shipping
4th May 2010 17:58 GMT

As sea ice extent and thickness continue to diminish in the Arctic, experts and industry leaders believe that shipping in the region will grow, perhaps even substantially.  

With container ships potentially being able to save $2 million on a voyage between Shanghai and New York through the Northwest Passage as opposed to the Panama Canal, attention is fast shifting to the high north.  

Scott Borgerson of the Council for Foreign Relations has even asserted that the North Coast of Alaska may soon "resemble the coast of Louisiana, lit by the lights of ships and oil rigs."  

In light of the possibility of rapidly expanding shipping in the region, it is imperative that efforts persist to establish an effective regulatory structure for Arctic shipping.  

The IMO has begun this task with its ongoing work to develop a Polar Code, or mandatory set of safety and environmental regulations - anticipated to be completed by 2012 - but the Arctic will need more in the way of IMO protections to avoid or mitigate environmental harm caused by increased shipping activity.

The Arctic Council's authoritative Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment report recommends that Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas and Special Areas, which could include routing and reporting measures as well as discharge bans, be considered for the Arctic.  

The IMO should heed this advice and begin initiating discussions about identifying vulnerable areas in need of extra protection, particularly before regional and trans-Arctic operations ramp up considerably.  

The IMO and its Member Nations should especially seek to incorporate indigenous voices into the discussion, as the marine waters used by Arctic natives provide physical, cultural, and spiritual sustenance.  

In addition, regional and global benefits from maintaining cold environs and healthy, intact ecosystems through the use of special IMO measures will be immense.     

Before we proceed into a new frontier for shipping, let’s be sure that we set a proper environmental framework to guide this activity, including a robust Polar Code and designation of special zone status for the Arctic’s most sensitive waters.

John Kaltenstein,
4th May 2010 17:58 GMT

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