Shipping in Arctic Waters

AuthorEdgar Gold; Aldo Chircop; Hugh M. Kindred; William Moreira
In general, the legal regimes and institutions for navigation and ship-
ping discussed throughout this book apply to Arctic waters. However,
Arctic waters and shipping are subject to additional legislative layers in
Canadian and international law. For close to a century Canada has been
a leading state in protecting the fragile North and claims sovereignty
over Arctic waters within the archipelago and special jurisdiction over
waters within the limits of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Canada
has promoted and persuaded the international community to recognize
its right and responsibility to protect the Arctic marine environment.
The international community has accepted that the Arctic is a special re-
gion deserving of particular regulation and arrangements for maritime
safety and marine environmental protection from shipping activities.
The Arctic has always been considered a special environment be-
cause of its uniqueness, beauty, fragility, Indigenous peoples, wildlife,
and hazardous operating conditions. Canadian Arctic waters include the
waters of the Canadian archipelago (including the Northwest Passage)
and maritime zones permissible under the international law of the sea.
The Canadian sections of the Northwest Passage have western, north-
ern, and eastern approaches respectively in the Beaufort Sea, Lincoln Sea,
and Davis Strait and Labrador Sea. The Passage itself consists of up to
seven possible routes through a series of straits between islands in the
archipelago. The quest for a potential new navigation route through the
Passage linking the Pacif‌ic Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean has long held the
attention of explorers. In recent decades, there has been substantial sea
ice loss leading to a longer summer navigation season as a result of cli-
mate change impacts. Remote areas of the Arctic archipelago and beyond
are increasingly accessible for use and development. In addition to the
Indigenous peoples and existing settlements there is an increasing human
presence. Vessels supplying northern communities and transporting min-
eral resources out of the region are well established activities. Cruise ships,
f‌ishing activities, and recreational vessels are on the rise. Offshore oil and
gas exploration in the Beaufort Sea promises developmental opportun-
ities, but also raises concerns. Although far from commercial certainty in
the foreseeable future, there is the prospect of a new maritime trade route
through the Passage. Canada is aware of the need to ensure that
the arctic waters adjacent to the mainland and islands of the Canadian
arctic are navigated only in a manner that takes cognizance of Canada’s
responsibility for the welfare of the Inuit and other inhabitants of the
Canadian arctic and the preservation of the peculiar ecological balance
that now exists in the water, ice and land areas of the Canadian arctic.1
This chapter explains the additional layers of national and international
regulation that apply to domestic and international shipping in Canadian
Arctic waters.
1) IMO Regulation
The development of rules and standards specif‌ically for international
shipping in the polar regions is a recent phenomenon. The f‌irst major
effort of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in this regard
was in 2002 when the Guidelines for Ships Operating in Arctic Ice-covered
Waters were adopted by an IMO Assembly resolution and as a voluntary
instrument.2 They were amended in 2009 to include the waters around
Antarctica and renamed as Guidelines for Ships Operating in Polar Waters,
but they remained non-mandatory.3 Since then the IMO has dedicated
1 Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, RSC 1985, c A-12, preamble [AWPPA].
2 IMO Doc MSC/Circ.1056/MEPC/Circ.399, 23 December 2002.
3 IMO Resolution A.1024(26) adopted 2 December 2009, IMO Doc A 26/Res.1024,
18 January 2010 [IMO Polar Guidelines].
Shipping in Arct ic Waters 993
far greater attention to navigation in polar regions. The International
Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 19744 was updated to include
ice data in meteorological services and warnings, Ice Patrol Service and
danger messages including for ice conditions.5 The Intact Stability Code,
2008 was amended to include recommendations for icing allowances
during loading of ships.6 New navigation areas (NAVAREAS) and me-
teorological areas (METAREAS) have been established in the Arctic,
together with the expansion of the World-Wide Navigational Warning
Service (WWNWS) into Arctic waters.7 The International Convention on
Standards of Training, Certif‌ication and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978
was amended to provide for the training for Arctic seafarers.8 Guidelines
on Voyage Planning for Passenger Ships Operating in Remote Areas9 and
the Guide for Cold Water Survival10 were adopted as non-mandatory in-
struments. The IMO has considered including the Iridium mobile sat-
ellite system, with its coverage of polar regions, in the Global Maritime
Distress and Safety System.11 The International Code for the Construction
and Equipment of Ships Carrying Liquef‌ied Gases in Bulk was amended
to provide a procedure for carriage of cargo at low temperature.12 Far
reaching as they are, these initiatives needed to be accompanied by new
specialized rules and standards for polar navigation going beyond the
general requirements of SOLAS and the International Convention for the
Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973/78.13
4 1 November 1974, 1184 UNTS 2, as amended [SOLAS]. The 1974 SOLAS Con-
vention has been amended extensively since adoption; citations in this chapter to
SOLAS are to the consolidated text of the Convention, which includes all proto-
cols (unless specif‌ically noted otherwise) and all amendments in effect.
5 Ibid, ch V, regs 5, 6, 31, and 32.
6 IMO Doc MSC 85/26/Add.1, 4 December 2008 (in force 1 July 2010), Annex 2,
Part 2, c 6.
7 Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), report on the Arctic MSI
Services, IMO Doc COMSAR 15/3/9, 23 December 2010.
8 7 July 1978, 1361 UNTS 190 [STCW 1978], as amended by the Manila Amend-
ments, Attachment 1 to the Final Act of the Conference of the Parties, IMO Doc
STCW/CONF.2/33, 1 July 2010, resolution 11 and s B-V/g [Manila Amendments].
9 IMO Doc A25/Res.999, 3 January 2008.
10 IMO Doc MSC 1/Circ.1185, 31 May 2006.
11 “Radiocommunications and Search and Rescue, Recognition of the Iridium Mo-
bile-satellite System,” IMO Doc MSC92/9/2, 9 April 2013.
12 Reg 18.5, in Amendments to the 1974 SOLAS Convention and associated instru-
ments, IMO Doc MSC 93/3, 6 December 2013, Annex 6 [IGC Code]. For the most
recent version of the IGC Code, see the IMO Publications Catalogue, online: IMO
13 2 November 1973, 1340 UNTS 184 as amended by Protocol of 1978 Relating to
the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships of 1973,

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