In an address to the general assembly of the International Maritime Organization, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp encouraged the IMO to address the pressing issues facing the international shipping community, including the Arctic, piracy and passenger ship safety. He challenged the international community to adopt a mandatory polar code of international norms for the Arctic to, “prevent the need for what would certainly be a difficult and lengthy response should a casualty occur, thus saving lives and protecting our environment.”
Established in 1948, the IMO is the maritime governance arm of the United Nations agency tasked with developing and maintaining a regulatory framework for global shipping. The IMO has been at the center of international treaties and conventions governing every facet of shipping including safety, environmental concerns, legal matters, technical cooperation, maritime security and the efficiency of shipping.
An IMO Polar Code would establish clear standards for ships and equipment design, vessel carriage requirements and appropriate operation and manning standards to help ensure the safety or mariners, passengers and cargo transiting the Arctic region. In the interim, an IMO voluntary Polar Code provides guidelines for ships operating in the Polar regions.
“The Arctic Ocean is rapidly changing from a solid expanse of inaccessible ice fields into a growing navigable sea, attracting increased human activity and unlocking access to vast economic potential and energy resources,” said the Commandant. “The acceleration of human activity, the opening of the seas and the inevitable increase in maritime activity means increased risk of maritime accidents, including those involving cruise ships, oil spills, and the illegal fishing and harvesting of other natural resources.”
Exactly how the Federal government would respond to an oil spill in the Arctic was the focus of the 2013 Spill of National Significance Executive Seminar recently hosted at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters. This exercise, along with the U.S. Coast Guard Arctic Strategy, acknowledges the important role the international community, led by the IMO, must play to ensure Arctic waters and the resources they contain are cared for and preserved in a manner that benefits all nations.
“Wherever human activity thrives, we have a shared responsibility to uphold the rule of law, ensure the safety and security of mariners, passengers and cargo, and ensure environmentally responsible maritime activity,” said the Commandant at the general assembly. “Each sovereign state, working together with the international community as a whole, must uphold these responsibilities to ensure legitimacy of the rule of law in a dynamic and challenging world. Maritime governance is the value that IMO and our member states bring today and promise for the future.”