JHC Navigating Limits Sub-Committee

The INC 1/11/03 wording is designed for modern trading realities: The associated climate information is kept under review by the standing sub-committee. 

Northern Sea Route will not replace Suez in the near future say Maersk, October 2018
Maersk, which recently sent the 3,500 teu ice-class vessel Venta Maersk around the Northern Sea Route, has dampened any overenthusiasm for the much shorter route from the coast of China to northern Europe.

Maersk chief technical officer Palle Laursen said that "we do not see the Northern Sea Route as a viable commercial alternative to existing east-west routes. Today, passage on the route is only feasible for around three months a year, but some experts believe that may change with time".

Venta Maersk, a Baltic feeder, started from Vladivostok and stopped at terminals in Vostochny and Busan before passing through the Bering Strait on its way to Bremerhaven. Laursen said that the trial allowed Maersk "to gain exceptional operational experience, test vessel systems, crew capabilities and the functionality of the shore based support setup." The trip went smoothly, although ice conditions in the East Siberian Sea required assistance by icebreakers.

Near-disaster in Arctic illustrates dangers of Northern Sea Route (from Insurance Marine News) September 2018

Barge MP 3297 broke off its mooring and allided with the berthed Zapolyarnyy (IMO 9404027) early on September 5th in the port of Dudinka in the Russian Arctic. While the barge remained intact, the cargo ship sustained dents in its stern accommodation area. The incident somewhat took the shine off the arrival of 2017-built Cosco heavylift vessel Tian'en (IMO 9774587) at the French port of Rouen after a 33-day voyage via the Northern Sea Route from China's Lianyungang port, carrying wind farm equipment.

Clean Arctic Alliance Lead Advisor Sian Prior called on Cosco "to make public the nature of the fuel that the Tian’en has used and carried through Arctic waters – and for Cosco and its customers to commit to using – and carrying only lighter distillate fuels or other cleaner alternatives instead of the world’s dirtiest fuel – heavy fuel oil (HFO) – to power ships in the Arctic."

Prior continued: "With Arctic summer sea ice at approximately half the extent it was in the 1970s and half the volume, and following the news that the region’s strongest sea ice has broken up twice this year, for the first time on record, using heavy fuel oil to power shipping in the Arctic is a poor choice. It not only increases the risk of oil spills, but also generates emissions of black carbon, which exacerbate the melting of both sea and glacier ice in the Arctic region."

2008-built, Russia-flagged, 16,994 gt Zapolyarnyy is owned by Norilsk Nickel of Moscow, Russia, and managed by Norilsk Nickel-Murmansk of Murmansk, Russia.

Failed NSR transit, November 2017

Rosatom, the Russian state-owned company that operates the country's fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers, advised that on October 30th, the tanker Chukotka entered the waters of the Northern Sea Route from Murmansk and then sailed alone, aiming to travel across the Arctic route without icebreaker assistance. However the Barents Observer has since reported that it failed. It seems that during the voyage, the ship became icebound in the Sannikov Strait, the area between the New Siberian Islands and the mainland, and subsequently drifted with the ice on to a sand bank. On November 22nd nuclear icebreaker Yamal, which is mainly used for tourism and scientific expeditions, arrived on site. The tanker was pulled free and taken to a place of safety. Rosatom said that Chukotka subsequently continued eastwards, but with support from icebreakers. Yamal is now back in ice waters near Sabetta. No leakages have been reported. Chukotka Trading Company acquired the Chukotka in 2016. She was built in 1982 in Vaasa for Shell, has ice classification and capacity to carry up to 11,000 tons of oil.

The Polar Code

The advent of the Polar Code from 2017 will provide some comfort for underwriters but it has to be seen as risk mitigation rather than a complete solution. Michael Kingston recently of DWF (michaelkingston@michaelkingston.org) has been acting as IUMI's adviser at IMO whilst the Polar Code has been finalised and is very well connected to the Arctic Council should anyone have any questions.

The Arctic Council has set up a Best Practice Forum and a very useful information portal http://www.arcticshippingforum.is/ .

APPG Polar regions
Members of the sub-committee have also attended sessions of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions.

Climatic change is varied and complex but effects are certainly observable. Sea ice is decreasing in the Arctic but increasing in the Antarctic. It is believed the Arctic is warming at twice the global rate with a measurable loss of sea ice but the effect of retreating permafrost has not been factored into any climate models. At the last meeting it was advised that the satellite monitoring sea-ice had been decommissioned, thus causing a lack of data continuity. The main threat to coastal areas lies in the rise of sea-level, (currently rising at 3.5mm a year) as some research suggests that a 1 metre rise would displace 140 million people. 

Notable incidents

5 May 2017 - Southern Ocean Loss

Refrigerated cargo ship, 1993-built, 10,629 gt  Uruguay Reefer (IMO: 9017264) suffered a massive intake of water on May 5th in her number two hold, possibly as a result of striking ice, eventually forcing the crew to abandon ship on May 7th. The flooding was initially reported from a position about 100 nm off Elephant Island, an isolated outcropping in the Southern Ocean near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The vessel still had propulsion and her master planned to seek assistance from two company-owned vessels in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands. On Sunday, vessel operator Baltmed Reefer Services reported that the Uruguay's crew was unable to halt the ingress of water and that flooding was worsening in persistent rough weather. Early on May 7th the master ordered abandon ship, and all 42 of the Uruguay's crew safely transferred to another merchant vessel, the reefer Taganrogskiy Zaliv (also operated by Baltmed). As of May 8th Uruguay Reefer appeared to be stationary about 100 nm east-southeast of the Falklands. Uruguay Reefer is entered with the UK P&I Club on behalf of member Diamond Faith Shipping of Athens.

23 February 2016 - Icebreaker goes aground in Antarctica – high winds break moorings 

Australia-chartered icebreaker Aurora Australis has gone aground in Antarctica off Mawson Station. The 6,600-gt P&O vessel (built 1989) was on a resupply mission. The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) confirmed the ship had broken free of its mooring lines during a blizzard on Wednesday afternoon. A total of 67 passengers and crew were on board, but no injuries were reported. Bad weather has prevented a full inspection of the hull. The AAD said winds of up to 130 kilometres per hour were recorded just before the ship broke free. Aurora Australis is owned by P&O Maritime Services and chartered by AAD and is due to be replaced by a new AUD 500m ($358m) icebreaker in 2019.

There are regular casualties in ice areas as these two spreadsheets demonstrate.

Increased Risk of Grounding in Barranquilla, Colombia

23 February 2015: Bulk carrier stuck in ice for several days - freed by two icebreakers
The 27,128-dwt Arthur M. Anderson (built 1952) got trapped in the frozen Lake Erie last Tuesday, while on its way to Wisconsin. A US Coast Guard ship came to help the stranded vessel but it got stuck as well. The Canadian Coast Guard sent a larger icebreaker and it helped the trapped US icebreaker before freeing Arthur M. Anderson. During the rescue, the crew of the US Coast Guard vessel was running low on food so a helicopter was deployed to supply the vessel. The ice at the area between Canada’s Ontario and Ohio in the US was reportedly up to 10 feet thick.

Area 9 – 16 January 2014: Crew rescued from Ice
12 men from the 9,600-dwt Diomid were taken off by helicopter, rescuers said. Three men - two mechanics and a guard - will remain on board until the spring to stop looters. The ship was en route from Magadan to the port of Vladivostok when it became trapped in ice off the northwestern coast of Sakhalin Island on 30 December, the RIA Novosti agency said.

Antarctic - 3 January 2014: Chinese rescue ship also runs into trouble
A Chinese ship which supplied the helicopter to airlift the stranded passengers from the 1,764-gt Akademik Shokalskiy to safety was struggling to move through the heavy ice away from the trapped Russian vessel. The Aurora Australis, carrying the rescued passengers, had been placed on standby should the 8,800-dwt Xue Long require help. The Russian vessel became trapped on 24 December in thick sea ice around 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart, Tasmania.

View previous incidents.

Member's Area Responsbilities

Area 1 Arctic Mike Thompson
Area 2 Northern Seas Mike Thompson
Area 3 Baltic Sarah Wilson
Area 4 Greenland Dan Dobisz
Area 5a N America Mike Thompson / Paul Western
Area 5b N America Richard Bridges
Area 6 N America (W) Matt Gysbers
Area 7 S Ocean Richard Bridges
Area 8 Kerguelen Richard Bridges
Area 9 East Asia Matt Gysbers / Jason Page
Northern Sea Route (NSR)

Download an ABS Advisory document on the NSR

Members are regularly approached and asked about voyages to this region where there is little to no salvage capability and little reliable information. Underwriters approached to write a risk in these waters may wish to satisfy themselves on the following points - surveyors are unlikely to be available:
  • suitability of vessel for the intended voyage
  • crewing arrangements including key personnel’s levels of experience in Arctic navigation
  • proposed route and voyage dates
  • ice breaker and escort arrangements
  • access to accurate and up to date weather information and weather routing proposals and suitable ports of refuge
  • bunkering arrangements.

Permission needs to be obtained from the appropriate marine authority, appropriate navigation rules need to be complied with and it can be helpful to have a Russian speaking deck officer on board.

In their 2009 Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment, the Arctic Council noted that:

  • significant portions of the primary Arctic shipping routes do not have adequate charts to support safe navigation
  • this is most critical in the Canadian Archipelago and the Beaufort Sea and possibly other areas in the Arctic
  • furthermore there are serious limitations to radio and satellite communications for voice or data transmission in the Arctic because there is not complete satellite coverage of the region.

They also noted stated that: 

  • no research and none of the simulations have indicated that the winter sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean will disappear during this century...it is highly plausible there will be greater marine access and longer seasons of navigation except perhaps during winter, but not necessarily less difficult ice conditions for marine operations
  • most shipping in the Arctic today is destinational
  • the majority of cruise ships observed recently in Arctic waters are not purpose-built for Arctic operations