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Regulations for shipping in the Northern Sea Route (NSR) in the Arctic region are complex, not least because the route passes through international waters and is therefore subject to myriad international regimes. The Polar Code was established by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and came into force in 2017, laying out the regulations for shipping in the Arctic region in terms of human safety and protections for the environment. The Polar Code was developed with consideration for existing treaties for environmental protection under MARPOL (short for Maritime Pollution) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. Learn more about the Polar Code in the PDF attachment to this post.

MARPOL was introduced in 1973 and modified in 1978 by a new Protocol, so it is often known as MARPOL 73/78 and is recognised as one of the most important conventions for international marine environmental concerns. Victor Olerskiy, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Transport until 2018, presented at the Arctic Circle Assembly in 2015, following the drafting of the Polar Code. Russia’s claim to sovereignty of the Arctic Northern Sea Route has been largely substantiated by the United Nations.

MARPOL 73/78 Development

The MARPOL convention is recognised as the primary convention preventing marine environment pollution by ships on an international level, whether caused by accidental or operational issues. MARPOL was initially developed by the IMO with the objective of conserving the marine environment, bringing into force a series of international regulations with the objective of eliminating pollution of the oceans and seas by the global shipping industry. Aims include minimising damage caused through accidental spills of harmful substances, such as oil, and preventing other pollution such as air pollution and water pollution caused by dumping.

The original MARPOL convention was signed in February 1973 with the additional Protocol added in 1978. The agreement came into force on the 2nd of October, 1983. Approximately 99.42% of the shipping tonnage in the world belongs to flag states that are party to the MARPOL convention, which 156 states had signed as of January, 2018. All ships sailing under the flag of a country that has signed the MARPOL convention are subject to adhere to the requirements without regard to where the vessels sail.

Statistics about growth in the world’s merchant fleets and top ship-owning countries can be found in the infographic attachment to this post.

Annexes and Amendments

MARPOL is divided into six categories based on the type of pollutant being regulated. These categories are called Annexes and are numbered I to VI. Each Annex came into force on a different date, beginning with Annex I in October, 1983 which concerns the prevention of oil pollution and oily water. Annex II, the control of pollution by bulk transportation of noxious liquid substances, came into force in April, 1987, followed by Annex III in 1992 which deals with the prevention of pollution by harmful substances carried in package form by sea. Annex IV came into force in 2003 and concerns sewage from sailing vessels, and Annex V (1988) prevents the pollution of waters by garbage from ships. Annex VI, which prevents air pollution from ships, entered into force in May, 2005. There have been several amendments to the original agreements which were added between 2010 and 2015 concerning Annexes IV and V.

In the short video attachment, learn more about the requirements for IMO standards to be implemented and enforced on a global scale.