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Comparison of Competence Requirements and Crew Training on Arctic Routes

(by Karl Magnus Eger)


The IMO Guidelines is applicable for seafarers operating in Arctic ice covered waters, including the NSR, NWP and TPP. In addition, the Russians and the Canadians have set down regulatory frameworks applicable for seafarers operating on the NSR and the NWP respectively.

The IMO Guidelines for Seafarers Operating in Arctic Ice Covered Waters

The IMO Guidelines require that the ice navigator shall provide documentary evidence of having satisfactorily completed an approved training programme in ice navigation. Yet, there exists no international recognized model course for ice navigators or qualification scheme for individuals who are likely to operate in ice covered waters. Moreover, from an operational safety point of view, it is unlikely that any ship would cross the central Arctic Ocean without an ice navigator and a crew trained for such conditions. However, ships crossing the central Arctic Ocean will operate in convoys, which mean that there will be another ship to support in case of an emergency incident. Furthermore, the convoys must rely on self-support as the capability of any external rescue is limited. In addition, there are great challenges when it comes to emergency measures, like salvage capability for instance due to the long distances to the main land and operative ports offering rescue service. If an accident should take place in these waters, it would be time-consuming for any external rescue unit to arrive.

The Northern Sea Route

The NSR Guidelines requires an inspection of every crew member and ice navigator before they can enter the NSR. These control routines are provided by the Marine Operations Headquarters (MOH), one on each side of the NSR. Their areas of responsibility are divided in the Laptev Sea at longitude 125°E. Ships planning to sail from west to east will be referred to the MOH in Dikson, and those planning to sail from east to west must contact the MOH in Pevek. The only requirement imposed on the crew is the size, which must be large enough to guarantee a three shift watch. Moreover, the NSR Guidelines focus, in particular, on the skills of the ice navigator. A qualified ice navigator must have experience of steering vessels in ice conditions on the NSR for at least 15 days. On the other hand, if this requirement is not met, the MOH may assign an ice navigator to assist the vessel through the NSR. Currently, there are no requirements regarding qualified training courses for an ice navigator or crew operating on the NSR.

The Northwest Passage

The NWP is a three-state route divided between the U.S. Canada and Denmark. Nonetheless, Canada has set down a regulatory framework for seafarers operating on the NWP. The Arctic Shipping Pollution Prevention Regulations, 1978 (ASPPR) is the Canadian legal framework in terms of training and competence provisions for seafarers operating on the NWP. In order to navigate within any of the 16 shipping zones (see figure 5.2) of the NWP, the navigator must have served on a ship for at least 50 days, of which 30 days must have been served in Arctic waters. However, the ASPPR does not require that ice navigators must complete an approved training course when operating on the NWP. Currently, the most common training practice of ice navigators is accomplished by “On the job experience”, which means that less experienced navigators learn from experienced Canadian Coast Guard captains and local ice advisors (i.e. person with local knowledge and experience of the area).What happens in most cases is that a local ice-advisor are carried on board the ship, in order to provide assistance. In addition, the ASPPR requires no formalized training course for the crew.        

The Passages in Comparison

As demonstrated, the regulations set down for seafarers operating in Arctic waters, differ substantially between the three legal regimes.

Firstly, Canadian authorities do not require any inspection of seafarers before they can enter the NWP. Unlike the Canadian NWP regulations, the NSR Guidelines requires a mandatory control inspection of every crew members and ice navigators before they can enter the NSR. In this respect, the NSR regulations are stricter than the NWP regulations.

Secondly, there are different qualification requirements for an ice navigator operating on the NSR versus the NWP. Unlike the Canadian NWP regulations, which recommend that an ice navigator must have at least 30 days of experience of ice manoeuvring operations in Arctic conditions on a general basis, the NSR Guidelines requires that the ice navigator shall have at least 15 days of experience, exclusively from the NSR. Moreover, an ice navigator with extensive experience from Arctic waters in general, is not necessarily qualified for navigation on the NWP, since the transport corridor represent unique geographical areas in combination with various ice characteristics.

Thirdly, there are also certain similarities between the three regimes. Neither, the Canadian NWP regulations, the Russian NSR Guidelines nor the IMO Guidelines require any certified training courses for crews or ice navigators in order to operate in Arctic waters. From a safety point of view, cold weather course training would be an essential qualification for any crew member in order to do a satisfactory job on board any ship operating in Arctic waters.

Today, the international and national regulations for the seafarers who operate along the NSR, NWP and TPP are not harmonized. In addition, the current requirements for seafarers operating on the Passages are far from adequate for any regular marine traffic.


    Karl Magnus Eger, 2010, Comparison of Competence Requirements and Crew Training on Arctic Routes, CHNL.©