IMO will establish new shipping routes in the Bering Strait and Bering Sea to reduce the risks of incidents and protect the marine environment. Precautionary areas and six two-way routes will be created in a region that is a vital approach to the Arctic Ocean at a time when ship traffic is expected to rise.
These routes were agreed during the fifth meeting of IMO’s Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR 5) in February. This followed proposals by the Russian Federation and the US for routes and areas to avoid in the Bering Sea and between the Chukotskiy Peninsula, Russia and Alaska. These would be voluntary and concern vessels that are more than 400 gt.
NCSR 5 agreed to forward these measures for adoption at the 99th session of IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 99), which is expected to approve them in May. The sub-committee members agreed that vessel traffic through the Bering Strait will increase as more ships use northern sea routes across Siberia and around North America.
US and Russian proposals also took into account forecasts of rising economic activity, such as fishing and offshore oil and gas operations, in the Arctic and in the Bering Sea. NCSR 5 also agreed to establish three areas to be avoided in the Bering Sea to protect the fragile marine environment.
These are the first ship routeing measures to be agreed at IMO for the Arctic region since the Polar Code entered into force on 1 January 2017. This code sets additional safety and environment protection measures for ships trading in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
Polar Code was discussed at NCSR 5, which re-established a correspondence group to develop general guidance for navigation and communication equipment intended for use on ships operating in polar waters.
Other ship routeing systems were also approved at NCSR 5 for submission to MSC for adoption. These included a traffic separation scheme and other routeing measures in Dangan Channel, China, and a separation scheme in the vicinity of Kattegat between Denmark and Sweden. NCSR 5 also amended an area to be avoided off the coast of Ghana.
There were also discussions covering additions to the worldwide ship positioning and navigation satellite systems. In particular, NCSR 5 invited India to submit further information on the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) so that it could be considered for recognition as a component of the World-Wide Radionavigation System. The sub-committee also agreed to submit draft performance standards for shipborne IRNSS receiver equipment for adoption at MSC 99.