Ocean Currents » shipping http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Mon, 24 Apr 2017 16:58:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 A New Year, a New Set of Rules for Polar Waters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/06/a-new-year-a-new-set-of-rules-for-polar-waters/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/06/a-new-year-a-new-set-of-rules-for-polar-waters/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 13:03:31 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13581

It’s 2017, and a suite of new standards and practices are now in place for vessels operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters. The new set of rules—called the Polar Code—is designed to increase ship safety and environmental protection in high-latitude waters. Adopted by a specialized agency of the United Nations called the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Polar Code sets standards for ship safety and for prevention of pollution from international shipping. The Polar Code took effect on January 1 of this year (with a one-year phase in period).

The Polar Code is so important because as sea ice continues to decline, the Arctic Ocean is becoming more accessible to vessel traffic. But as more ships operate in those remote and challenging waters, there are substantial safety and environmental risks—including possible impacts to food security of Arctic indigenous peoples.

The Polar Code includes both mandatory and recommendatory measures intended to mitigate the risk of Arctic shipping. For instance, vessels operating in polar waters must now apply for a Polar Ship certificate, which requires an assessment of the vessel’s suitability for intended operating conditions. The Polar Code also requires voyage planning that, among other things, helps to avoid aggregations of marine mammals and seasonal migration areas. It also bans discharge of oil or oily mixtures and noxious substances, and places relatively strict limitations on discharge of sewage and garbage.

While the Polar Code is unquestionably a major step forward, it does not address all the safety and environmental challenges related to Arctic vessel traffic. For example, use and carriage of heavy fuel oil—the dirtiest and most difficult-to-recover oil if spilled—is banned in Antarctic waters, but the Polar Code still allows vessels to use and carry it in the Arctic. Ocean Conservancy is working with partners to phase out the use of heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters.

The Polar Code does not address the discharge of harmful graywater, imposes no mandatory measures to reduce the threat of invasive species, and does not limit harmful air emissions from vessels traveling in Arctic waters. More broadly, the Polar Code only applies to certain types of vessels that operate in the Arctic, and does not fully address concerns about lack of infrastructure and maritime information in the region. There are also challenges with respect to enforcement of the Polar Code.

As you can see, there’s still plenty of work to do to increase safety and protect Arctic waters from the impacts of shipping. But, I’m optimistic that the Polar Code is a step in the right direction, and a good start to the new year. Ocean Conservancy will continue to work with the IMO and our partners to strengthen the Polar Code and ensure that new regulations protects the ecological heritage of this unique and fragile region at the top of the planet.



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Make Your Holiday Greener http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/02/make-your-holiday-greener/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/02/make-your-holiday-greener/#comments Thu, 02 Jul 2015 12:04:15 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10347

The Travel Foundation is a non-profit organization that works with the travel industry to integrate sustainable tourism into their business — to protect the environment and create opportunities for local people in tourism destinations. Their annual Make Your Holidays Greener Month, during July, celebrates the locations around the world we love to visit and encourages visitors and the travel industry alike to take part in a cleanup — the Big Holiday Beach Clean.

Earlier this year, a report from the World Wildlife Fund valued the world’s ocean at $24trillion – a figure largely calculated from the value of fishing, shipping and tourism.  Whilst many already view the ocean as priceless, the attempt to put a monetary value on it highlights to businesses around the world the importance of taking action to protect marine ecosystems.

For tourism, the ocean and sea are vastly important.  Many of the holidays we take have beaches and coastlines at their center and these environments are an inherent part of the product marketed by tourism companies to their customers.  As a result, this industry is well placed to mobilize action, particularly on the growing and pervasive threat of marine litter.

The Make Holidays Greener campaign is focusing its efforts on engaging travel companies and their customers in celebrating cleaner, greener beaches.  The campaign is organized by sustainable tourism charity, the Travel Foundation, in partnership with Travelife a sustainability certification system for hotels and accommodations.  The organizations are urging hotels, tour operators and other tourism companies to support the campaign by organizing a beach clean this July and by reducing plastic waste.

Beach cleans are a great way to engage customers, staff and local communities in a positive and memorable action, with publicity generated by the campaign helping to spread the message more widely. The Make Holidays Greener infographic about plastic waste, which has already been shared widely, highlights that everyone can make a difference by taking simple actions – such as disposing of litter and cigarette butts properly, taking a reusable bag and bottle to the beach and not using straws.

Plus, every bag of rubbish taken out of the environment makes a difference to birds, turtles, fish, dolphins and other marine life, and the more people who participate, the greater the impact. Last year the campaign gathered great momentum with over 100 companies taking part, cleaning 97 beaches in 22 countries.  It is hoped that these efforts will also feed into the Ocean Conservancy’s database and support further efforts to minimize waste going into our seas.

The campaign website makeholidaysgreener.org.uk features a range of free resources, including how to organize a beach clean, support for hotels to reduce plastic waste, and top tips for holidaymakers.  Follow us on Twitter, @TravelTF, and join the conversation using #greenerhols.

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This is How We Can Make Shipping Safer in the Bering Strait http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/26/this-is-how-we-can-make-shipping-safer-in-the-bering-strait/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/26/this-is-how-we-can-make-shipping-safer-in-the-bering-strait/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 21:30:33 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9289

The Bering Strait is the only marine connection between the Chukchi Sea and Arctic Ocean to the north and the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean to the south. Just 55 miles wide, the Strait separates Alaska to the east and Russia to the west.

The Bering Strait is a biological hotspot. Millions of seabirds and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals use the Strait as a migratory corridor, and the Bering and Chukchi Seas are one of the most productive ocean ecosystems in the world.

But we’ve also noted that vessel traffic through the Bering Strait is growing. Earlier this year, an American company revealed plans to sail a luxury cruise ship from Seward, Alaska to New York City in 2016, using the fabled Northwest Passage. More recently, a Canadian company announced its intent to ship a cargo of nickel concentrate from northern Canada to China, also via the Northwest Passage. In addition to increasing interest in using the Northwest Passage north of Canada, traffic on the Northern Sea Route north of Russia is growing.

As vessel traffic increases, so too does the potential for adverse environmental impacts to the Bering Strait region. These impacts could include more pollution, ship strikes on marine mammals, and oil spills, among others. Growth in vessel traffic could also have adverse effects on the indigenous peoples; ship traffic could swamp their small boats, displace the animals they hunt, or cause waves that disturb archeological sites and culturally important places.

Fortunately, there are solutions that can make shipping safer and reduce the chances of accidents and spills in the Bering Strait region. A new article in the journal Marine Policy outlines some of these solutions, including:

1. Establishment of shipping lanes: Shipping lanes or recommended routes serve to confine vessels to particular pathways in some portions of the ocean. Use of shipping lanes can help to create regular patterns of use and ensure that vessels steer clear of potential marine hazards.

2. Designation of “Areas to be Avoided”: As the name implies, “Areas to be Avoided” are used to help ensure that vessels stay away from areas of the ocean that may be especially dangerous or vulnerable to disturbance. “Precautionary Areas” can also be used to alert mariners to areas that require special caution.

3. Imposition of speed restrictions: In some situations, slowing down can reduce the risk of ship strikes and decrease noise that may adversely affect marine mammals, especially in constricted areas.

4. Bolstering communications and monitoring: Establishment of routine reporting requirements for vessels transiting the Bering Strait could help keep both local communities and search and rescue officials aware of activity in the region. Use of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) could facilitate communication and monitoring, helping to prevent accidents and ensure compliance with regulations.

Other potential safety measures include improved charting for Arctic waters (many of which have not been charted to modern standards); more rigorous voyage planning; and pre-placement of equipment and rescue tugs that would enable quicker response to accidents.

These safety measures may be put in place in a variety of ways, ranging from voluntary adoption by industry, creation of regulations by U.S. agencies including the Coast Guard, or through international agreements between nations or under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization.

There is no “silver bullet” that can eliminate the threats posed by growing vessel traffic in the Bering Strait, but if sensible regulations and mitigation measures are put in place now, they will go a long way toward increasing shipping safety and reducing potential environmental impacts.

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How We Can Respond to Increased Shipping in the Bering Strait http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/28/how-we-can-respond-to-increased-shipping-in-the-bering-strait/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/28/how-we-can-respond-to-increased-shipping-in-the-bering-strait/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 12:50:56 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8407 Recent posts on The Blog Aquatic have focused on the Bering Strait: the 50-mile-wide gateway that separates Alaska from Russia, and that provides the only marine passage between the North Pacific and the Arctic oceans.

Two weeks ago, we highlighted the extraordinary abundance of wildlife that migrates through the Bering Strait each spring—from bowhead whales and ice-dependent seals to walruses and seabirds. We also emphasized the importance of the region’s highly productive marine ecosystem to the residents of coastal communities who rely on marine resources to support their subsistence way of life and cultural traditions.

Last week’s blog entry described how the retreat of seasonal sea ice in the Arctic has facilitated the steady growth of vessel traffic through the Bering Strait. We noted that these additional ship transits will cause more air, water and noise pollution; elevate the risk of ship strikes and the potential for introduction of invasive species; and increase the odds of major spills that could have catastrophic effects on the ecosystem. And we described how the Bering Strait’s harsh environmental conditions, remoteness, and lack of infrastructure combine to increase operational risks and create enormous challenges for those who would respond to accidents in the region.

How should we respond to these threats?

We can take one option off the table right away: closing the Bering Strait to vessel traffic is not a viable approach. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and customary international law, the Bering Strait is considered an international strait, which means that vessels of all nations have rights to “continuous and expeditious transit of the strait.”

Fortunately, there are more pragmatic ways to mitigate the risks associated with increasing vessel traffic in the Bering Strait. Some of these measures include:

  • Improve weather forecasts and nautical charting: Weather and sea-ice forecasts in the Bering Strait are not optimal; the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) admits that weather “prediction capabilities are currently poorer in the Arctic than in other parts of the United States.” Better forecasts would help mariners identify and manage risks. In addition, the Bering Strait, along with other marine waters in the U.S. Arctic, is not charted to modern standards. NOAA’s April 2014 Arctic Action Plan describes current charting data as “inadequate or nonexistent” and recognizes that better charting “would improve maritime safety and efficiency” in the region. Nautical charts are essential tools for maritime navigation.
  • Establish vessel traffic lanes. Designating mandatory lanes for ship traffic in the Bering Strait would increase safety and reduce the chance of collisions. It would also help ensure that vessels stay well offshore, providing additional response time in the event that a ship loses propulsion or experiences some other difficulty. Additional response time may prove critical in this remote area.
  • Designate areas to be avoided. As the name implies, designation of areas to be avoided establishes regions of the ocean that are off-limits to ship traffic. In the Bering Strait, strategic designation of Areas to be Avoided would help ensure that vessels steer clear of hazards and areas that may be especially sensitive to impacts from traffic.
  • Enhance communications and reporting systems: Establishing a more robust communication and reporting protocol for the Bering Strait region would facilitate information exchange among the Coast Guard, vessels, and local communities. Some of this information exchange could be accomplished automatically, using the automatic identification systems (AIS) carried by most vessels. Two-way communication could help alert mariners to the presence of marine mammals, subsistence activities, or hazardous ice conditions in the area. Enhanced vessel monitoring could assist with the early identification of vessels in distress and encourage mariners to comply with regulatory requirements.

These are just a few possibilities. Other options are available to enhance safety, limit water and air pollution, and improve response speed and capacity in the event of an accident in the region.

While none of these options is particularly complicated, implementation of regulatory measures in the Bering Strait is made more challenging because of the region’s status as an international strait. For example, that status places limits on the ability of the United States to regulate foreign-flagged vessels transiting the strait. More comprehensive regulation can be achieved through the International Maritime Organization (IMO), but the IMO’s processes can take considerable time to unfold.

These challenges make it all the more important to get a head start on addressing the threats of increasing vessel traffic through the Bering Strait. Now is the time to set in motion the measures that will increase safety, reduce environmental risks, and enhance the capacity to respond effectively when something goes wrong.

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Increased Shipping Could Cause Serious Impacts in the Bering Strait http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/20/increased-shipping-could-cause-serious-impacts-in-the-bering-strait/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/20/increased-shipping-could-cause-serious-impacts-in-the-bering-strait/#comments Tue, 20 May 2014 12:30:41 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8327 The Bering Strait—the only marine gateway between Pacific and Arctic oceans—is a key biological hotspot. As this recent blog post explained, the strait hosts an extraordinary abundance of wildlife. Every spring, huge numbers of marine mammals and birds migrate north through the strait on their way to Arctic waters.

In recent years, the Bering Strait has also turned into a hotspot for shipping. As sea ice in the Arctic retreats, vessel traffic is growing steadily. A recent analysis by the U.S. Coast Guard notes that “commercial ventures in the Arctic have increased maritime traffic in the Bering Strait. From 2008 to 2012, traffic through the Bering Strait increased by 118 percent.” Many types of vessels contribute to the growth in maritime traffic. Some of these ships provide supplies to coastal communities, some support oil and gas activities, and some travel between Europe and Asia across the Arctic Ocean on the Northern Sea Route along the Russian Arctic coast.

To be clear, the current level of vessel traffic in the Bering Strait is modest compared to other major shipping corridors, such as the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal, or even the Great Circle Route through the Aleutian Islands. At the same time, however, the Bering Strait poses distinct challenges that increase objective risks. These include a remote operating environment, the presence of seasonal sea ice and the relative absence of basic maritime infrastructure and information. A 2012 report by the State of Alaska’s Northern Waters Task Force cited a shortage “of detailed navigational charts, reliable weather forecasting, vessel traffic separation protocols, search and rescue infrastructure, and overall maritime domain awareness.”

There’s no doubt that growth in vessel traffic through the Bering Strait will result in increased impacts. These include higher levels of noise pollution and air emissions, more discharge of pollutants into the water, and increased potential for the introduction of invasive species. These impacts pose threats to the Bering Strait’s fish, birds, marine mammals and human communities. In addition, as the ice-free season lengthens and vessel traffic grows, there is greater potential for ships to strike bowhead whales and other marine mammals as they migrate through the Bering Strait, injuring or killing individual animals.

And then there’s the risk of a major accident resulting in a large spill, such as we have seen in Alaska’s heavily trafficked  Aleutian Islands. As the Coast Guard concluded in its 2013 Arctic Strategy, multiple factors combine to “make the Bering Strait region increasingly vulnerable to maritime casualties,” such as vessel groundings, spills, and collisions. If a marine disaster took place in the Bering Strait during a critical migration period, it could have catastrophic consequences for a large number of individual animals, and it could affect a number of species important to the region’s ecology.

These impacts could also spill over to harm the people who live in Bering Strait communities and depend on the region’s biological resources to support their way of life. The threat of a major oil spill is of particular concern in potentially icy waters, like those of the Bering Strait, because sea ice can significantly reduce the effectiveness of mechanical oil containment and removal technologies.

Given the rapid increase in vessel traffic, the remoteness and lack of infrastructure, the ecological importance of the area and the potential for truly significant impacts to wildlife and people, there is an urgent need to improve maritime safety and environmental protection in the Bering Strait region. Fortunately, a variety of tools are available to help achieve that objective. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post that will identify some of the most promising options.

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Regulation of Shipping in the Warming Arctic is a Hot Topic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/11/regulation-of-shipping-in-the-warming-arctic-is-a-hot-topic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/11/regulation-of-shipping-in-the-warming-arctic-is-a-hot-topic/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 17:43:00 +0000 Whit Sheard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8040 With 90 percent of the world’s trade being transported across our ocean, it was only a matter of time before the receding sea ice in the Arctic Ocean captured the interest of the shipping industry. Shipping goods through the Northern Sea Route across the Russian Arctic coast, along the fabled Northwest Passage of the Canadian and U.S. Arctic coasts, or straight across the North Pole could save time and money. But at what cost? The Arctic Ocean is far from a safe place for vessels, and the inevitable accidents in this remote and rapidly changing region could devastate the fragile ecosystem. Fortunately, the International Maritime Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations that regulates global shipping, is developing a mandatory ‘Polar Code’ designed to minimize impacts of the anticipated Arctic shipping boom.

Shipping disrupts fish and wildlife, and some of the impacts are magnified by the unique conditions of the Arctic. For example, greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate disruption, which is disproportionately affecting the Arctic region. Noise pollution disrupts whale migrations around the world, but it is particularly problematic in the Arctic, where bowhead whales migrate through lanes of open water surrounded by ice or ice and land.  These are the exact same lanes that ships will be using, so the noise will be concentrated there. The same logic applies to oil spills, which would be concentrated in important migratory corridors or in nearshore environments, where there are higher concentrations of wildlife. Also, as we’ve discussed here in the past, the Arctic is a remote region with little infrastructure or emergency response equipment.

The new mandatory Polar Code, which will be enforced through amendments to the existing International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) and International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), builds on the existing voluntary Guidelines for Ships Operating in Polar Waters, and is scheduled to be finalized and adopted in 2015. The Polar Code will address a wide range of issues, including ship design, construction, equipment, operation, training, search and rescue and environmental protection. The scope of the new regulations is impressive, especially considering that when Ocean Conservancy staff and our partners began working on the Polar Code in 2010, there were no plans to have a chapter dedicated to the protection of the fragile marine environment.

While we are certainly excited that the 170 member states that make up the International Maritime Organization are committed to addressing the consequences of shipping through Arctic waters, much work remains to be done. Ocean Conservancy and our partners feel strongly that the Polar Code should contain additional provisions, including:

  • A ban on the use of heavy fuel oil, which is more toxic than crude oil and is already banned in Antarctica
  • Measures that reduce black carbon emissions, which may cause up to 25 percent of observed global warming by covering Arctic snow and ice with soot and reducing its ability to reflect heat
  • Expanded applications of the Polar Code to sub-Arctic waters with similarly dangerous ice conditions, lack of response infrastructures and fragile ecologies.

The good news is that the International Maritime Organization is taking the environmental impacts of Arctic shipping very seriously. The October 2014 meetings of the Marine Environment Protection Committee, which is tasked with regulating a variety of environmental issues across the globe, will be preceded by a weeklong session to grapple with these issues and ultimately take us one step closer to a robust Polar Code and a better protected healthy Arctic Ocean. Ocean Conservancy will continue to work to ensure that the final Polar Code protects the ecological heritage of this unique and fragile region at the top of the planet.

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Ninety Percent of Everything: a Look Inside Shipping http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/03/ninety-percent-of-everything-a-look-inside-shipping/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/03/ninety-percent-of-everything-a-look-inside-shipping/#comments Thu, 03 Oct 2013 20:52:19 +0000 Anna Zivian http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6760 container ship at port

Photo: Matt Zimmerman via Flickr

Rose George’s recent book, “Ninety Percent of Everything,” offers an outsider’s look inside an immensely important, but remarkably obscure industry. George is a stranger on a strange sea, but she is able to enter deeply into the world of the shipping industry in a short time.

Her writing is clear, elegant and direct, making even discussions of shipping’s many acronyms and abbreviations—TEUs, UNCLOS, IMO, MARPOL, ECDIS—compelling.

George brings the personal into a world that has grown ever more distant and impersonal. She gains her entry into the closed world of shipping by traveling as a “supernumerary,” a working guest (her book is the work) on the Maersk Kendal.

She also joins a European Union Naval Force vessel, the Vasco de Gama, to see firsthand the international efforts to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden.

Ninety Percent of Everything book coverOn occasion, as with her discussions of piracy, her storytelling becomes almost too personal, and her viewpoint and prejudices become distractions. For the most part, however, her stories bring us to the ocean and remind us that there are people behind the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the computers we rely on—behind 90 percent of everything.

Shipping has transformed radically in the last half century. Ships have become bigger, crews have become smaller and more international, and containers have replaced “breakbulk” shipments, where goods were packed and unloaded singly, in barrels, bags and boxes.

The increasing automation has led to a faster and more solitary lifestyle, and George conveys the changes with clarity and compassion. She describes the dangers, the loneliness, the hardships and the economic struggles of officers and crew alike in a way that draws the reader in and lets us see the hardships behind international trade.

George also devotes a chapter to the hardships shipping can cause on non-humans, particularly whales. There is the obvious danger of ship strikes (although it is not always obvious to the ships, which are so big that they often do not notice if they strike an animal).

There is also the more pervasive problem of noise pollution: With more and more ships, the ocean is becoming increasingly noisy. As George says, “Sound means life for aquatic animals. And now, because of us, it can mean death.”

Both of these problems have some partial fixes. To avoid ship strikes, shifting routes and slowing down can help—and new technology can help captains know where whales are and avoid them. Slower speeds and more efficient propellers, which are quieter, can cut down on noise.

In modern shipping, automation and containers have driven up loading and unloading speeds, meaning that port visits are so short that there is practically no time to leave the ship and see the sights that were historically such a compelling draw for young sailors. Shipping is a difficult, dangerous business.

Despite all this, the sea still has a draw—in some cases, economic, but also more viscerally. George does a remarkable job of translating this ineffable pull by bringing us into the lives of the people she meets and the places she travels.

“Ninety Percent of Everything” combines history, technical information, personal travel stories and mini-biographies into a highly readable and informative book.

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