ABS senior technical advisor James Bond gives the view from class on key issues concerning ice operations for tankers
With the entry into force of IMO’s Polar Code, the regulatory environment for tankers operating in ice has changed substantially. SOLAS has a new Chapter 14, Marpol annexes have been revised and the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) has been revised to include specific crew training requirements for tankers operating in ice.
Central to raising the safety bar is the requirement for an operator to have a firm understanding and awareness of the environment that the ship will be entering. The detailed environmental conditions, including the possible presence of sea ice and low air temperature, are supplemented by knowledge of the typically remote location and associated poor hydrography and search and rescue resources, especially in the North American Arctic and the Antarctic region.
“Central to raising the safety bar is the requirement for an operator to have a firm understanding and awareness of the environment that the ship will be entering”
Knowledge of the environment feeds the Polar Code's mandatory Operational Assessment (OA). The OA is a ship-specific review and documentation effort for Polar waters hazards and possible mitigation measures. The OA in turn forms the basis for the contents of the mandatory Polar Waters Operation Manual (PWOM), the onboard reference manual defining the limitations of the vessel and mitigation means if the actual conditions of operation in the highly variable Polar regions impinge on those limits.
Due to the consequences of damage to the cargo containment block, STCW sets higher standards for tankers than for other cargo ships. As a function of the ice presence, 'Basic' training for the Master, Chief Mate and Officers in charge of a navigation watch is required if intending to operate in open waters (sea ice present in concentrations less than 1/10), and if ice concentrations exceed 1/10 the Master and Chief Mate are required to have 'Advanced' training.
The entry into force date for the STCW requirements was 1 July 2018 and is independent of the entry into force dates for the SOLAS and Marpol Polar Code requirements. The Marpol requirements for all ship types entered into force on 1 January 2017. The SOLAS requirements entered into force on 1 July 2017 for new ships and at the first intermediate or renewal survey after 1 January 2018.
It has become apparent that insurers and charterers recognise the value of the Polar Code requirements for operational assessment and associated heightened environmental awareness, as they are encouraging existing ships to have a Polar Ship Certificate ahead of their mandatory date.
It is recognised by stakeholders generally that the Polar Code raises the safety bar for tanker operations in ice.