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Sailing in the Polar Region – requirements for seafarers

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Vessels sailing in cold conditions are affected by the Polar Code which enters into force on 1st January 2017. Ship owners already preparing for the new code will realise that besides technical requirements also operational aspects have to be considered. One of them is appropriate training for the crew.
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The Polar Code is adopted by resolution MSC.385(94). The Polar Code applies to the areas around Antarctica, south of latitude 60°S and around the Arctic. In principle these are the waters north of latitude 60°N with the exemptions off the coast of Iceland and northern Scandinavia as well as parts of Russia. A detailed definition is given in SOLAS regulations XIV/1.2 and XIV/1.3.

What does the Polar Code define regarding manning and training?

This is answered in Chapter 12 of Part I-A Safety Measures. For the details for the qualification the Polar Code refers to Chapter V of the Convention and Code on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW). We will analyse this amended chapter later below. The Polar Code sets the framework for the application who, when and where needs to have which qualification. As normal condition it is required that that the navigational watch officers, including the master, have received sufficient training and following this have a basic or advanced certificate of proficiency.

The requirements are separated between the ship types and the local conditions they sail in. Depending if it is a tanker, a passenger ship or another ship type and depending if the ship sails in ice free conditions (not any kind of ice is present), in “open waters” (defined as navigable water in which sea ice is less than 1/10) or in “other waters” (waters others than ice free or open waters) they have different requirements for training.
The easiest is the ice free condition where no certificate is required for anybody.
In “open waters” only tanker and passenger ship’s navigational officers on operational and management level need a basic training and the appropriate certificate. When any ship enters “other waters” any navigational officer must have received basic training and hold the related certificate while masters and chief mates must have received advanced training and holding the related certificate.

Does the Polar Code allow substituting certificate holders with other personnel?

Yes, this is mentioned in Chapter 12.3.2 of the Polar Code: “the administration may allow the use of a person(s) other than the master, chief mate or officers […]” under certain conditions. These conditions require that the other person is qualified as nautical officer according to STCW (reg. II/2, section A-II/2). Therefore, only qualified nautical officers may substitute the requirements.

Furthermore, it is required that enough persons on board must hold an appropriate certificate in order to cover all watches. This means that only one person alone cannot substitute several missing certificates. There have to be enough persons to cover all watches, keeping in mind the minimum hours of rest at all times.

Two special requirements apply in addition to the above. When operating in waters other than open waters or bergy waters, the master, chief mate and officers in charge of a navigational watch on passenger ships and tankers shall meet the applicable basic training requirements.
When operating in waters with an ice concentration of more than 2/10, all nautical officers including the master on cargo ships other than tankers shall meet the applicable basic training requirements.
Even having hired in additional persons to satisfy the requirements for training does not relieve the master or officer of the navigational watch from their duties and obligations for the safety of the ship.

What does STCW require the seafarer to do?

As defined in the Polar Code STCW sets the details of what should be trained. Therefore, STCW will be amended with a new regulation V/4 on “mandatory minimum requirements for the training and qualifications of masters and deck officers on ships operating in polar waters” which is expected for entry into force on 1st July 2018 according to circular letter No 3641.

Who needs to do which training?

Following the Regulation V/4 there are two main trainings defined: The basic and the advanced training.

The basic training is applicable for masters, chief mates and officers in charge of a navigational watch on ships operating in polar waters. They have to do an approved basic training course in order to apply for a Certificate of Proficiency (CoP).

The advanced training is applicable for masters and chief mates on ships operating in polar waters. They have to have a basic certificate, at least two months of approved seagoing service in the deck department at management level or while performing watchkeeping duties in the operational level and of course completed the advanced training course.

At intervals not exceeding five years every master or officer shall establish continued professional competence. As for other competencies this could be done by approved seagoing service or an approved course or other means approved by the administration.

Are there transitional provisions?

If you are already an experienced sailor STCW has included transitional provisions for the first two years after the entry into force which will be then until 1st July 2020. Nautical officers may apply for the basic certificate according to these transitional provisions if they have approved seagoing service on board a ship operating in polar waters or equivalent approved seagoing service for a period of at least three months in total during the preceding five years; or have successfully completed a training course meeting the training guidance established by the organization for ships operating in polar waters. This guidance is laid down in section B-V/g of the STCW Code.

For the advanced certificate seafarers may apply according to the transitional provisions if they have approved seagoing service on board a ship operating in polar waters or equivalent approved seagoing service for a period of at least three months in total during the preceding five years; or successfully completed a training course meeting the training guidance established by the organization for ships operating in polar waters (sec B-V/g) and having completed approved seagoing service on board a ship operating in polar waters or equivalent approved seagoing service, for a period of at least two months in total during the preceding five years.

How to handle the two entry into force dates?

As the amendments to STCW enter into force only one and a half year after the Polar Code enters into force it is strongly recommended to consult the flag state if they aim for early implementation of the STCW amendments and local port authorities to discuss a solution which is accepted. For the flag state it may be considered that they refer to the transitional provisions in order to issue certificates at least to existing seafarers. Maybe they have approved also training in compliance with the future regulation V/4 or with the guidance given in section B-V/g.

It is recommended to follow up the outcome of the next IMO meetings in case additional guidance might be provided. An overview to latest statutory technical and regulatory news can be found here: “https://www.dnvgl.com/maritime/technical-regulatory-news/statutory.html”