Dozens of vessels violate safety rules on Northern Sea Route

During the first ten months of 2017, the Russian Northern Sea Route (NSR) Administration recorded 88 violations of its Rules of Navigation committed by 84 vessels. This represents approximately 15-20% of all ships traveling the route this summer.

Violations range from procedural violations, such as failure to notify authorities when entering and exiting the route, to deviations from approved routes or entering the route without permission, to operating in ice conditions that exceed vessel specifications.

Nearly half of all violations fell into this last, and according to experts, most serious category. “These violations will increase the risk of incident or accidents of course. I’m particularly concerned about the operations beyond vessel capability as these represent a very serious risk,” explains Dr. Simon Walmsley, Marine Manager of WWF International. “The fact this is 15-20% of all vessels is very concerning, as this looks like fairly common practice.”

Dangerous Arctic waters

The NSR has witnessed a number of accidents and incidents over the past decade. Earlier this year the Danish bulk carrier Nordic Barents collided1) with the nuclear icebreaker Vaygach, but fortunately neither ship’s seaworthiness was affected.

In September 2013 the tanker Nordvik was struck by ice2) and started to take on water before the crew was able to stop the ingress. The vessel, which was cleared to sail only in light ice, operated in medium ice conditions at the time, highlighting the importance that vessels do not operate in waters that exceed their ice classification. This incident echoes nearly half of all the violations in 2017 in which ships cleared for only light or medium ice operated in more severe conditions.

On the other hand, appropriate ice classifications can aid in limiting the severity of incidents. In July 2010 two fully-loaded Russian tankers, the Indiga and the Varzuga,3)  collided in medium ice conditions and poor visibility. Neither ship lost seaworthiness and no oil spills were reported, in part thanks to their heavy ice-classification 1A Super with double hull.

A growing regime of safety rules

In order to manage and reduce the risks associated with navigating in Arctic waters, vessels are required to follow a number of regulations. On the international level, the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Polar Code, a binding framework, came into effect in 2017 and covers shipping-related matters ranging from ship design, construction and equipment, operational and training concerns, search and rescue, as well as measures to protect the Arctic’s unique ecosystem.

For the waters of the NSR, Rules of Navigation4) were approved by the Russian Ministry of Transport in 2013. The document lays out rules related to, among others, procedure, icebreaker assistance, ice pilot assistance, and navigation and hydrographics. The document specifies which vessels require icebreaker escorts based on their class of ice strengthening, the ice conditions, the area a vessel is navigating in, and the time of year.

“As the Polar Code has now entered into force and it has conditions regarding ice navigation capability, it would also be interesting to see how many of these vessels are in violation of these international standards as set by the IMO,” wonders Walmsley.

How to monitor and enforce the rules

As Arctic shipping traffic is slated to grow fourfold by 20255) the challenge of how to effectively monitor and enforce existing rules will only accelerate in the coming years.

“The responsibility […] for monitoring and compliance with IMO instruments [such as the Polar Code] lies with the States. The fact that violations have been identified should signal that the role of monitoring is being carried out”, the IMO explained in a statement to High North News.

The fact that Russia tracks violations and has made the list6) public is a positive sign, says Michael Byers, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia. “This indicates an awareness of the problem as well as a desire to address rather than conceal it.”

However, questions remain on how to move from the establishment of rules to enforcing them. “The numerous violations also indicate how very difficult it is to enforce shipping rules in a remote and extreme region such as the Arctic. In this context, recent Russian efforts to re-open small military bases along the NSR, build new icebreakers, and improve search and rescue look more reasonable than many commentators have assessed,” explains Byers.

Similar concerns are voiced by Walmsley.  “It is quite common that regulations are in place but it is difficult to enforce or police them, hence we need stronger flag state control.”

Indeed, the responsibility to ensure that vessels meet Polar Code requirements rests with the flag state. “There is an onus on the flag state to make sure the ship is properly certified if it is trading to the Polar areas set out in the Polar Code”, explains the IMO.

This raises the question to what degree Russia is interested in and will be enforcing the rules for its own ships. Out of the 84 vessels in violation, more than two-thirds flew the Russian flag. The NSR Administration did not reply to inquiries as to what penalties, if any, these ships would face.

Moving beyond flag state control

Port state control may be one way to enhance enforcement of shipping rules, especially for foreign-flagged vessels. This international agreed regime allows for the inspection of foreign ships in other nation’s ports.

“Bilateral or multilateral agreements to this effect could ensure that when a violating vessel arrives at its destination, a penalty would be imposed — perhaps an arrest, more likely a fee,” Byers explains. Modern satellite-based vessel tracking would assist in identifying violations and tracking vessels.

Similar suggestions are brought forth by Walmsley. “We need to also be looking at frameworks like the Memorandums of Understanding (Tokyo and Paris) on port state control.7) These allow for better control in ports and perhaps it is time for something like this to be developed specifically for Arctic operations?”

No matter what the specific solution to monitor and more effectively enforce shipping rules in the Arctic will be, time is rapidly running out to put into place a robust system.

“This is a real cause for concern and a lesson for all Arctic coastal states that capabilities need to increase if these are to become regular routes,” says Walmsley. “The fact that rules are not being adhered to already is a huge cause for concern and particularly on ice operations, which was the exact reason the Polar Code was developed.”

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Passenger Ship SAGA LEJON Detained, Waiting for Flag State Certificate

Passenger ship SAGA LEJON was bought by an unnamed buyer from Swedish cruise lines company to be deployed in West Africa as a ferry between coastal States, though this buyer is a suspect in illegal migrant trafficking. SAGA LEJON left Karlskrona but was intercepted by Swedish Coast Guard and taken to Ystad, because she was banned from leaving port, lacking some ship’s papers, including Flag State Certificate. The ship presumably, is registered under Togo flag. Survay and confirmation of Flag State reportedly, required for lifting ban. According to Swedish media, SAGA LEJON may be allowed to leave Sweden this week.

Passenger ship SAGA LEJON, IMO 6913376, GT 1178, built 1969, capacity 383 passengers.

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Kenya seeks German port’s expertise on marine safety

The Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) has hired a German consultant to conduct a study aimed at boosting its safety and security oversight and raising the country’s global competitiveness.

The study, being conducted by HPC Hamburg, a subsidiary of Hamburg Port in Germany, is funded by the World Bank to the tune of Sh120 million.

Acting KMA director-general Cosmas Cherop said the consultant will also assess the logistics costs incurred on imports and exports though Mombasa port and make appropriate recommendations.

“The study is in the final stages of the first phase with stakeholders’ validation work- shop set for later this month,” Mr Cherop said in an interview at the KMA headquarters.

One of the key areas of focus is involvement of industry stakeholders in the development of new regulations after a court blocked implementation of section 16 (1) of the Merchant Shipping Act 2009.

“The court ruled that we did not carry out proper consultations, which was unconstitutional. We will engage all stakeholders with a view of explaining to them what the regulations mean and also consider concessions each party can make,” said John Omingo, the regulator’s head of commercial shipping.

He said KMA would ensure that all parties were taken care of to avoid litigations that slow their work progress.

“We are telling our stakeholders that we will to come up with realistic regulations that are acceptable by all parties. However there will be need for us to consider areas of concession,” said Mr Omingo.

There have been murmurs among the clearing and forwarding fraternity who complain that shipping lines have been allowed to operate businesses, taking up space for the small and micro enterprises in the sector.

Two years ago, the High Court delivered a ruling that rendered Section 16(1) of the Merchant Shipping Act, 2009 ineffective.

The section states: “No owner of a ship or person providing the service of a shipping line shall, either directly or indirectly, provide in the maritime industry the service of crewing agencies, pilotage, clearing and forwarding agent, port facility operator, shipping agent, terminal operator, container freight station, quay side service provider, general ship contractor, haulage, empty container depots or ship chandler.

Justice George Odunga on January 23, 2015 quashed the regulation in a case where APM Terminals, which has links with Maersk shipping line, moved to court to challenge Kenya Ports Authority’s (KPA) bid to block it from the tender to operate the first phase of the second container terminal.

“Leave is hereby granted to apply for an order prohibiting KPA from denying the applicant opportunity to participate in tender no. KPA/007/2014-5/CS for qualification of concessionaire for phase 1 of the second container terminal on the grounds that the applicant had ‘a relationship prohibited under section 16(1) of the Merchants Shipping Act 2009,” the judge ordered.

The ruling also meant that multinationals could carry on businesses related to quayside services, general ship contractors, haulage, ship brokerage, cargo consolidators, ship repairers and maritime trainers.

Early this year, Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir accused shipping lines of the ruling to set up businesses that should ideally be reserved for Kenyans, adding that this has resulted to dominance by foreign firms and adversely affected employment of locals.

In the 11th Parliament, the MP sent a petition to National Assembly Speaker Justin Mturi requesting for drafting of the Bills to amend the Act and force shipping lines to cede part of their businesses besides being forced to pay workers high salaries.

The petition did not however sail through but the legislator, who retained his seat in the August polls, said he would re-introduce it in the new Parliament.